Autosomal recessive primary microcephaly (MCPH), historically referred to as Microcephalia vera, is a genetically and clinically heterogeneous disease. Patients with MCPH typically exhibit congenital microcephaly as well as mental retardation, but usually no further neurological findings or malformations. Their microcephaly with grossly preserved macroscopic organization of the brain is a consequence of a reduced brain volume, which is evident particularly within the cerebral cortex and thus results to a large part from a reduction of grey matter. Some patients with MCPH further provide evidence of neuronal heterotopias, polymicrogyria or cortical dysplasia suggesting an associated neuronal migration defect. Genetic causes of MCPH subtypes 1-7 include mutations in genes encoding microcephalin, cyclin-dependent kinase 5 regulatory associated protein 2 (CDK5RAP2), abnormal spindle-like, microcephaly associated protein (ASPM), centromeric protein J (CENPJ), and SCL/TAL1-interrupting locus (STIL) as well as linkage to the two loci 19q13.1-13.2 and 15q15-q21. Here, we provide a timely overview of current knowledge on mechanisms leading to microcephaly in humans with MCPH and abnormalities in cell division/cell survival in corresponding animal models. Understanding the pathomechanisms leading to MCPH is of high importance not only for our understanding of physiologic brain development (particularly of cortex formation), but also for that of trends in mammalian evolution with a massive increase in size of the cerebral cortex in primates, of microcephalies of other etiologies including environmentally induced microcephalies, and of cancer formation.
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.