Epigenetics and epitranscriptomics in temporal patterning of cortical neural progenitor competence

J Cell Biol. 2018 Jun 4;217(6):1901-1914. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201802117. Epub 2018 Apr 17.


During embryonic brain development, neural progenitor/stem cells (NPCs) sequentially give rise to different subtypes of neurons and glia via a highly orchestrated process. To accomplish the ordered generation of distinct progenies, NPCs go through multistep transitions of their developmental competence. The molecular mechanisms driving precise temporal coordination of these transitions remains enigmatic. Epigenetic regulation, including changes in chromatin structures, DNA methylation, and histone modifications, has been extensively investigated in the context of cortical neurogenesis. Recent studies of chemical modifications on RNA, termed epitranscriptomics, have also revealed their critical roles in neural development. In this review, we discuss advances in understanding molecular regulation of the sequential lineage specification of NPCs in the embryonic mammalian brain with a focus on epigenetic and epitranscriptomic mechanisms. In particular, the discovery of lineage-specific gene transcripts undergoing rapid turnover in NPCs suggests that NPC developmental fate competence is determined much earlier, before the final cell division, and is more tightly controlled than previously appreciated. We discuss how multiple regulatory systems work in harmony to coordinate NPC behavior and summarize recent findings in the context of a model of epigenetic and transcriptional prepatterning to explain NPC developmental competence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Humans
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic*