The cerebral cortex is the site of higher human cognitive and motor functions. Histologically, it is organized into six horizontal layers, each containing unique populations of molecularly and functionally distinct excitatory projection neurons and inhibitory interneurons. The stereotyped cellular distribution of cortical neurons is crucial for the formation of functional neural circuits and it is predominantly established during embryonic development. Cortical neuron development is a multiphasic process characterized by sequential steps of neural progenitor proliferation, cell cycle exit, neuroblast migration and neuronal differentiation. This series of events requires an extensive and dynamic remodeling of the cell cytoskeleton at each step of the process. As major regulators of the cytoskeleton, the family of small Rho GTPases has been shown to play essential functions in cerebral cortex development. Here we review in vivo findings that support the contribution of Rho GTPases to cortical projection neuron development and we address their involvement in the etiology of cerebral cortex malformations.
Keywords: GAP; GEF; Rho GTPases; cerebral cortex; cortical malformations; neuronal development.