Nervous system development proceeds by sequential gene expression mediated by cascades of transcription factors in parallel with sequences of patterned network activity driven by receptors and ion channels. These sequences are cell type- and developmental stage-dependent and modulated by paracrine actions of substances released by neurons and glia. How and to what extent these sequences interact to enable neuronal network development is not understood. Recent evidence demonstrates that CNS development requires intermediate stages of differentiation providing functional feedback that influences gene expression. We suggest that embryonic neuronal functions constitute a series of phenotypic checkpoint signatures; neurons failing to express these functions are delayed or developmentally arrested. Such checkpoints are likely to be a general feature of neuronal development and constitute presymptomatic signatures of neurological disorders when they go awry.
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