Dysregulation of Neurite Outgrowth and Cell Migration in Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

  • Smrithi Prem
  • James H. Millonig
  • Emanuel DiCicco-BloomEmail author
Part of the Advances in Neurobiology book series (NEUROBIOL, volume 25)


Despite decades of study, elucidation of the underlying etiology of complex developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia (SCZ), intellectual disability (ID), and bipolar disorder (BPD) has been hampered by the inability to study human neurons, the heterogeneity of these disorders, and the relevance of animal model systems. Moreover, a majority of these developmental disorders have multifactorial or idiopathic (unknown) causes making them difficult to model using traditional methods of genetic alteration. Examination of the brains of individuals with ASD and other developmental disorders in both post-mortem and MRI studies shows defects that are suggestive of dysregulation of embryonic and early postnatal development. For ASD, more recent genetic studies have also suggested that risk genes largely converge upon the developing human cerebral cortex between weeks 8 and 24 in utero. Yet, an overwhelming majority of studies in autism rodent models have focused on postnatal development or adult synaptic transmission defects in autism related circuits. Thus, studies looking at early developmental processes such as proliferation, cell migration, and early differentiation, which are essential to build the brain, are largely lacking. Yet, interestingly, a few studies that did assess early neurodevelopment found that alterations in brain structure and function associated with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) begin as early as the initial formation and patterning of the neural tube. By the early to mid-2000s, the derivation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and later induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) allowed us to study living human neural cells in culture for the first time. Specifically, iPSCs gave us the unprecedented ability to study cells derived from individuals with idiopathic disorders. Studies indicate that iPSC-derived neural cells, whether precursors or “matured” neurons, largely resemble cortical cells of embryonic humans from weeks 8 to 24. Thus, these cells are an excellent model to study early human neurodevelopment, particularly in the context of genetically complex diseases. Indeed, since 2011, numerous studies have assessed developmental phenotypes in neurons derived from individuals with both genetic and idiopathic forms of ASD and other NDDs. However, while iPSC-derived neurons are fetal in nature, they are post-mitotic and thus cannot be used to study developmental processes that occur before terminal differentiation. Moreover, it is important to note that during the 8–24-week window of human neurodevelopment, neural precursor cells are actively undergoing proliferation, migration, and early differentiation to form the basic cytoarchitecture of the brain. Thus, by studying NPCs specifically, we could gain insight into how early neurodevelopmental processes contribute to the pathogenesis of NDDs. Indeed, a few studies have explored NPC phenotypes in NDDs and have uncovered dysregulations in cell proliferation. Yet, few studies have explored migration and early differentiation phenotypes of NPCs in NDDs. In this chapter, we will discuss cell migration and neurite outgrowth and the role of these processes in neurodevelopment and NDDs. We will begin by reviewing the processes that are important in early neurodevelopment and early cortical development. We will then delve into the roles of neurite outgrowth and cell migration in the formation of the brain and how errors in these processes affect brain development. We also provide review of a few key molecules that are involved in the regulation of neurite outgrowth and migration while discussing how dysregulations in these molecules can lead to abnormalities in brain structure and function thereby highlighting their contribution to pathogenesis of NDDs. Then we will discuss whether neurite outgrowth, migration, and the molecules that regulate these processes are associated with ASD. Lastly, we will review the utility of iPSCs in modeling NDDs and discuss future goals for the study of NDDs using this technology.


Neurodevelopmental disorders Autism Neurite outgrowth Cell migration Early neurodevelopment iPSCs NPCs 


Acknowledgments This work was supported by the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism (CAUT13APS010; CAUT14APL031; CAUT15APL041, CAUT19APL014) and Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation for Dr. DiCicco-Bloom and Dr. Millonig; NJ Health Foundation (PC 63-19) for Dr. Millonig; Mindworks Charitable Lead Trust, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest for Dr. DiCicco-Bloom; and the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences for Dr. Prem and Dr. DiCicco-Bloom.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Smrithi Prem
    • 1
  • James H. Millonig
    • 2
  • Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Graduate Program in NeuroscienceRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  3. 3.Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology/PediatricsRutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA

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