Genetic Basis of Brain Malformations

Mol Syndromol. 2016 Sep;7(4):220-233. doi: 10.1159/000448639. Epub 2016 Aug 27.


Malformations of cortical development (MCD) represent a major cause of developmental disabilities, severe epilepsy, and reproductive disadvantage. Genes that have been associated to MCD are mainly involved in cell proliferation and specification, neuronal migration, and late cortical organization. Lissencephaly-pachygyria-severe band heterotopia are diffuse neuronal migration disorders causing severe global neurological impairment. Abnormalities of the LIS1, DCX, ARX, RELN, VLDLR, ACTB, ACTG1, TUBG1, KIF5C, KIF2A, and CDK5 genes have been associated with these malformations. More recent studies have also established a relationship between lissencephaly, with or without associated microcephaly, corpus callosum dysgenesis as well as cerebellar hypoplasia, and at times, a morphological pattern consistent with polymicrogyria with mutations of several genes (TUBA1A, TUBA8, TUBB, TUBB2B, TUBB3, and DYNC1H1), regulating the synthesis and function of microtubule and centrosome key components and hence defined as tubulinopathies. MCD only affecting subsets of neurons, such as mild subcortical band heterotopia and periventricular heterotopia, have been associated with abnormalities of the DCX, FLN1A, and ARFGEF2 genes and cause neurological and cognitive impairment that vary from severe to mild deficits. Polymicrogyria results from abnormal late cortical organization and is inconstantly associated with abnormal neuronal migration. Localized polymicrogyria has been associated with anatomo-specific deficits, including disorders of language and higher cognition. Polymicrogyria is genetically heterogeneous, and only in a small minority of patients, a definite genetic cause has been identified. Megalencephaly with normal cortex or polymicrogyria by MRI imaging, hemimegalencephaly and focal cortical dysplasia can all result from mutations in genes of the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway. Postzygotic mutations have been described for most MCD and can be limited to the dysplastic tissue in the less diffuse forms.

Keywords: Cortical development; Lissencephaly; Malformation.

Publication types

  • Review