Classical embryological studies and modern genetic analysis of midbrain and cerebellum development

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2005;69:101-38. doi: 10.1016/S0070-2153(05)69005-9.


The brain is a remarkably complex anatomical structure that contains a diverse array of subdivisions, cell types, and synaptic connections. It is equally extraordinary in its physiological properties, as it constantly evaluates and integrates external stimuli as well as controls a complicated internal environment. The brain can be divided into three primary broad regions: the forebrain, midbrain (Mb), and hindbrain (Hb), each of which contain further subdivisions. The regions considered in this chapter are the Mb and most-anterior Hb (Mb/aHb), which are derived from the mesencephalon (mes) and rhombomere 1 (r1), respectively. The dorsal Mb consists of the laminated superior colliculus and the globular inferior colliculus (Fig. 1A and B), which modulate visual and auditory stimuli, respectively. The dorsal component of the aHb is the highly foliated cerebellum (Cb), which is primarily attributed to controlling motor skills (Fig. 1A and B). In contrast, the ventral Mb/aHb (Fig. 1B) consists of distinct clusters of neurons that together comprise a network of nuclei and projections-notably, the Mb dopaminergic and Hb serotonergic and Mb/aHb cholinergic neurons (Fig. 1G and H), which modulate a collection of behaviors, including movement, arousal, feeding, wakefulness, and emotion. Historically, the dorsal Mb and Cb have been studied using the chick as a model system because of the ease of performing both cell labeling and tissue transplants in the embryo in ovo; currently DNA electroporation techniques are also used. More recently the mouse has emerged as a powerful genetic system with numerous advantages to study events underpinning Mb/aHb development. There is a diverse array of spontaneous mutants with both Mb- and Cb-related phenotypes. In addition, numerous gene functions have been enumerated in mouse, gene expression is similar across vertebrates, and powerful genetic tools have been developed. Finally, additional insight into Mb/aHb function has been gained from studies of genetic diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, cancer, and Dandy Walker syndrome, that afflict the Mb/aHb in humans and have genetic counterparts in mouse. Accordingly, this chapter discusses a spectrum of experiments, including classic embryology, in vitro assays, sophisticated genetic methods, and human diseases. We begin with an overview of Mb and aHb anatomy and physiology and mes/r1 gene expression patterns. We then provide a summary of fate-mapping studies that collectively demonstrate the complex cell behaviors that occur while the Mb and aHb primordia are established during embryogenesis and discuss the integration of both anterior-posterior (A-P) and dorsal-ventral (D-V) patterning. Finally, we describe some aspects of postnatal development and some of the insights gained from human diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / genetics*
  • Cerebellum / embryology*
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Mesencephalon / embryology*
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Recombination, Genetic*