The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 65: 251 - 261 (2021)

Vol 65, Issue 4-5-6

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Ibero-America - Part 2

Cell segregation and boundary formation during nervous system development

Published: 26 August 2020

M. Constanza González-Ramírez, Pablo Guzmán-Palma and Carlos Oliva*

Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile


The development of multicellular organisms involves three main events: differentiation, growth, and morphogenesis. These processes need to be coordinated for a correct developmental program to work. Mechanisms of cell segregation and the formation of boundaries during development play essential roles in this coordination, allowing the generation and maintenance of distinct regions in an organism. These mechanisms are also at work in the nervous system. The process of regionalization involves first the patterning of the developing organism through gradients and the expression of transcription factors in specific regions. Once different tissues have been induced, segregation mechanisms may operate to avoid cell mixing between different compartments. Three mechanisms have been proposed to achieve segregation: (1) differential affinity, which mainly involves the expression of distinct pools of adhesion molecules such as members of the cadherin superfamily; (2) contact inhibition, which is largely mediated by Eph-ephrin signaling; and (3) cortical tension, which involves the actomyosin cytoskeleton. In many instances, these mechanisms collaborate in cell segregation. In the last three decades, there have been several advances in our understanding of how cell segregation and boundaries participate in the development of the nervous system. Interestingly, as in other aspects of development, the molecular players are remarkably similar between vertebrates and invertebrates. Here we summarize the main concepts of cell segregation and boundary formation, focusing on the nervous system and highlighting the similarities between vertebrate and invertebrate model organisms.


nervous system, boundary formation, cell segregation, differential affinity

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