Tubulin genes and malformations of cortical development

Eur J Med Genet. 2018 Dec;61(12):744-754. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmg.2018.07.012. Epub 2018 Jul 17.


A large number of genes encoding for tubulin proteins are expressed in the developing brain. Each is subject to specific spatial and temporal expression patterns. However, most are highly expressed in post-mitotic neurons during stages of neuronal migration and differentiation. The major tubulin subclasses (alpha- and beta-tubulin) share high sequence and structural homology. These globular proteins form heterodimers and subsequently co-assemble into microtubules. Microtubules are dynamic, cytoskeletal polymers which play key roles in cellular processes crucial for cortical development, including neuronal proliferation, migration and cortical laminar organisation. Mutations in seven genes encoding alpha-tubulin (TUBA1A), beta-tubulin (TUBB2A, TUBB2B, TUBB3, TUBB4A, TUBB) and gamma-tubulin (TUBG1) isoforms have been associated with a wide and overlapping range of brain malformations or "Tubulinopathies". The majority of cortical phenotypes include lissencephaly, polymicrogyria, microlissencephaly and simplified gyration. Well-known hallmarks of the tubulinopathies include dysmorphism of the basal ganglia (fusion of the caudate nucleus and putamen with absence of the anterior limb of the internal capsule), midline commissural structures hypoplasia and/or agenesis (anterior commissure, corpus callosum and fornix), hypoplasia of the oculomotor and optic nerves, cerebellar hypoplasia or dysplasia and dysmorphism of the hind-brain structures. The cortical and extra-cortical brain phenotypes observed are largely dependent on the specific tubulin gene affected. In the present review, all the published data on tubulin family gene mutations and the associated cortical phenotypes are summarized. In addition, the most typical neuroimaging patterns of malformations of cortical development associated with tubulin gene mutations detected on the basis of our own experience are described.

Keywords: Lissencephaly; Malformations of cortical development; Polymicrogyria; Tubulin gene mutations; Tubulinopathies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Humans
  • Malformations of Cortical Development / diagnostic imaging
  • Malformations of Cortical Development / genetics*
  • Malformations of Cortical Development / pathology
  • Mutation
  • Neuroimaging
  • Tubulin / genetics*


  • TUBA1A protein, human
  • Tubulin