Of Minds and Embryos: Left-Right Asymmetry and the Serotonergic Controls of Pre-Neural Morphogenesis

Dev Neurosci. 2006;28(3):171-85. doi: 10.1159/000091915.


Serotonin is a clinically important neurotransmitter regulating diverse aspects of cognitive function, sleep, mood, and appetite. Increasingly, it is becoming appreciated that serotonin signaling among non-neuronal cells is a novel patterning mechanism existing throughout diverse phyla. Here, we review the evidence implicating serotonergic signaling in embryonic morphogenesis, including gastrulation, craniofacial and bone patterning, and the generation of left-right asymmetry. We propose two models suggesting movement of neurotransmitter molecules as a novel mechanism for how bioelectrical events may couple to downstream signaling cascades and gene activation networks. The discovery of serotonin-dependent patterning events occurring long before the development of the nervous system opens exciting new avenues for future research in evolutionary, developmental, and clinical biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / physiology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Embryonic Development / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Morphogenesis / physiology*
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Serotonin