Development of the mammalian central nervous system proceeds roughly in four major steps, namely the patterning of the neural tube, generation of neurons from neural stem cells and their migration to genetically predetermined destinations, extension of axons and dendrites toward target neurons to form neural circuits, and formation of synaptic contacts. Earlier studies on spatiotemporal expression patterns and in vitro function of heparan sulfate (HS) suggested that HS is functionally involved in various aspects of neural development. Recent studies using knockout of genes involved in HS biosynthesis have provided more physiologically relevant information as to the role of HS in mammalian neural development. This chapter reviews the current understanding of the in vivo function of HS deduced from the phenotypes of conditional Ext1 knockout mice.
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