The most dorsal region, or roof plate, is the dorsal organizing center of developing spinal cord. This region is also involved in development of neural crest cells, which are the source of migratory neural crest cells. During early development of the spinal cord, roof plate cells secrete signaling molecules, such as Wnt and BMP family proteins, which regulate development of neural crest cells and dorsal spinal cord. After the dorso-ventral pattern is established, spinal cord dynamically changes its morphology. With this morphological transformation, the lumen of the spinal cord gradually shrinks to form the central canal, a cavity filled with cerebrospinal fluid that is connected to the ventricular system of the brain. The dorsal half of the spinal cord is separated by a glial structure called the dorsal (or posterior) median septum. However, underlying mechanisms of such morphological transformation are just beginning to be understood. Recent studies reveal that roof plate cells dramatically stretch along the dorso-ventral axis, accompanied by reduction of the spinal cord lumen. During this stretching process, the tips of roof plate cells maintain contact with cells surrounding the shrinking lumen, eventually exposed to the inner surface of the central canal. Interestingly, Wnt expression remains in stretched roof plate cells and activates Wnt/β-catenin signaling in ependymal cells surrounding the central canal. Wnt/β-catenin signaling in ependymal cells promotes proliferation of neural progenitor and stem cells in embryonic and adult spinal cord. In this review, we focus on the role of the roof plate, especially that of Wnt ligands secreted by roof plate cells, in morphological changes occurring in the spinal cord.
Keywords: Wnt; central canal; dorsal collapse; dorsal median septum; morphogenesis; neural crest; roof plate; spinal cord.