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  Children’s National Scientists Uncover Key Developmental Mechanisms Of The Amygdala
January 12, 2009

For Immediate Release: January 12, 2009

Findings could have implications for brain alterations associated with autism

Washington, DC—For the first time, scientists at Children’s National Medical Center have successfully identified a key developmental program for the amygdala—the part of the limbic system that impacts how the brain creates emotional memories and responses. This knowledge could help scientists to better understand autism and similar disorders in which altered function of this region is known to occur.

The findings, published in the February edition of Nature Neuroscience, identify a group (otherwise known as a pool) of precursor cells of neurons that are earmarked specifically for the amygdala and comprise part of a unique system of growth and development for this portion of the brain.

“Despite its central role in normal brain function and behavior, little has been known about how neuronal cell diversity is generated during development of the amygdala,” said senior author Joshua Corbin, PhD, of the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National. “It was thought that development of this region occurred similarly to other brain structures like the cerebral cortex, but our findings indicate that a specific precursor pool exists that is pre-assigned exclusively to the limbic system. It is a breakthrough to our understanding of this little studied region of the brain.”

Using studies of embryonic mice, Corbin and his team located two specific pools of precursor cells marked by the transcription factor Dbx1 that migrate from both the ventral pallium and the preoptic area—a previously undiscovered pool of migratory cells—to create the requisite mix of excitatory and inhibitory neurons that ultimately comprise the amygdala. Remarkably, the preoptic area precursor cells are exclusive contributors to the development of the limbic system, and no other portion of the brain.

“Altered function of the amygdala is a hallmark characteristic of disorders such as autism,” said Dr. Corbin. “A more clear understanding of the normal development of this important brain structure provides a roadmap to understand the consequences of altered brain development in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. Complete text can be found at: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nn.2241.html.

Contact: Jennifer Leischer/Emily Dammeyer, 202-476-4500

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About the Center for Neuroscience Research
The Center for Neuroscience Research seeks to understand the development of the central nervous system, including the cellular and molecular mechanisms of brain dysfunction to prevent or treat neurological and behavioral disorders in childhood. Researchers conduct basic and clinical research into some of childhood’s most complex neurological disorders, including epilepsy, autism, down syndrome, neurodevelopmental delays, traumatic brain injuries, white matter diseases, and neuro-oncology.


About Children’s National Medical Center
Children's National Medical Center, located in Washington, DC, is a proven leader in the development of innovative new treatments for childhood illness and injury. Children’s has been serving the nation's children for more than 135 years. Children’s National is proudly ranked among the best pediatric hospitals in America by US News & World Report and the Leapfrog Group. For more information, visit www.childrensnational.org. Children’s Research Institute, the academic arm of Children’s National Medical Center, encompasses the translational, clinical, and community research efforts of the institution. Learn more about our research programs at www.childrensnational.org/research.