Regulation of size and scale in vertebrate spinal cord development

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2021 May;10(3):e383. doi: 10.1002/wdev.383. Epub 2020 May 11.


All vertebrates have a spinal cord with dimensions and shape specific to their species. Yet how species-specific organ size and shape are achieved is a fundamental unresolved question in biology. The formation and sculpting of organs begins during embryonic development. As it develops, the spinal cord extends in anterior-posterior direction in synchrony with the overall growth of the body. The dorsoventral (DV) and apicobasal lengths of the spinal cord neuroepithelium also change, while at the same time a characteristic pattern of neural progenitor subtypes along the DV axis is established and elaborated. At the basis of these changes in tissue size and shape are biophysical determinants, such as the change in cell number, cell size and shape, and anisotropic tissue growth. These processes are controlled by global tissue-scale regulators, such as morphogen signaling gradients as well as mechanical forces. Current challenges in the field are to uncover how these tissue-scale regulatory mechanisms are translated to the cellular and molecular level, and how regulation of distinct cellular processes gives rise to an overall defined size. Addressing these questions will help not only to achieve a better understanding of how size is controlled, but also of how tissue size is coordinated with the specification of pattern. This article is categorized under: Establishment of Spatial and Temporal Patterns > Regulation of Size, Proportion, and Timing Signaling Pathways > Global Signaling Mechanisms Nervous System Development > Vertebrates: General Principles.

Keywords: morphogen; neural tube; pattern scaling; spinal cord; tissue size.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Apoptosis
  • Body Patterning / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Shape
  • Developmental Biology
  • Drosophila
  • Embryonic Development / physiology
  • Gastrula
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Mice
  • Organogenesis
  • Ranidae
  • Spinal Cord / embryology*
  • Stem Cells
  • Vertebrates / physiology*