Neurotransmitters as early signals for central nervous system development

Cell Tissue Res. 2001 Aug;305(2):187-202. doi: 10.1007/s004410000343.


During brain ontogenesis, the temporal and spatial generation of the different types of neuronal and glial cells from precursors occurs as a sequence of successive progenitor stages whose proliferation, survival and cell-fate choice are controlled by environmental and cellular regulatory molecules. Neurotransmitters belong to the chemical microenvironment of neural cells, even at the earliest stages of brain development. It is now established that specific neurotransmitter receptors are present on progenitor cells of the developing central nervous system and could play, during neural development, a role that has remained unsuspected until recently. The present review focuses on the occurrence of neurotransmitters and their corresponding ligand-gated ion channel receptors in immature cells, including neural stem cells of specific embryonic and neonatal brain regions. We summarize in vitro and in vivo data arguing that neurotransmitters could regulate morphogenetic events such as proliferation, growth, migration, differentiation and survival of neural precursor cells. The understanding of neurotransmitter function during early neural maturation could lead to the development of pharmacological tools aimed at improving adult brain repair strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Glycine / metabolism
  • Glycine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Acetylcholine
  • Glycine