Modeling the impact of alcohol on cortical development in a dish: strategies from mapping neural stem cell fate. Academic Article uri icon


  • During the second trimester period, neuroepithelial stem cells give birth to millions of new neuroblasts, which migrate away from their germinal zones to populate the developing brain and terminally differentiate into neurons. During this period, large numbers of cells are also eliminated by programmed cell death. Therefore, the second trimester constitutes an important critical period for neuronal proliferation, migration, differentiation and apoptosis. Substantial evidence indicates that teratogens like ethanol can interfere with neuronal maturation. However, there is a paucity of good model systems to study early, second trimester events. In vivo models are inherently interpretatively complex because cell proliferation, migration, differentiation, and death mechanisms occur concurrently in regions like the cerebral cortex. This temporal overlap of multiple developmental critical periods makes it difficult to evaluate the relative vulnerability of any individual critical period. Our laboratory has elected to utilize fetal rodent cerebral cortical-derived neurosphere cultures as an experimental model of the second-trimester ventricular neuroepithelium. This model has enabled us to use flow cytometric approaches to identify neuroepithelial stem cell and progenitor sub-populations and to show that ethanol accelerates the maturation of neural stem cells. We have also developed a simplified mitogen-withdrawal/matrix-adhesion paradigm to model the exit of neuroepithelial cells from the ventricular zone towards the subventricular zone and cortical plate, and their maturation into multipolar neurons. We can treat neurosphere cultures with ethanol to mimic exposure during the period of neuroepithelial proliferation and by using the step-wise maturation model, ask questions about the impact of prior ethanol exposure on the subsequent maturation of neurons as they migrate and undergo terminal differentiation. The combination of neurosphere culture and stepwise maturation models will enable us to dissect out the contributions of specific developmental critical periods to the overall teratology of a drug of abuse like ethanol.

published proceedings

  • Methods Mol Biol

author list (cited authors)

  • Miranda, R. C., Santillano, D. R., Camarillo, C., & Dohrman, D.

citation count

  • 22

complete list of authors

  • Miranda, Rajesh C||Santillano, Daniel R||Camarillo, Cynthia||Dohrman, Douglas

publication date

  • January 2008