Ryan Townshend, Undergraduate Student (Gumucio Laboratory), Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan Medical School
In the early embryo, dynamic folding of a flat sheet of cells gives rise to the neural tube, the precursor to the brain and spinal column. In humans, neural tube closure is normally complete by the 28th day of pregnancy, but incomplete closure (neural tube defects) represents one of the most common types of birth defects. Some aspects of this dynamic cellular process can be replicated and studied using cells in culture. This image shows a neural rosette that spontaneously formed from cultured neuroprogenitor cells. These cells are polarized, with their top (apical) surfaces marked in green; the apical surfaces surround a lumen (akin to the lumen in the center of the neural tube). Because cells can be genetically manipulated in culture, we can test which genes are important for building proper rosettes and potentially decipher the mechanisms underlying the complex cellular behavior that underlies neural tube development.