Reciprocal entorhinal-hippocampal connections established by human fetal midgestation

J Comp Neurol. 1996 Aug 26;372(3):384-94. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9861(19960826)372:3<384::AID-CNE4>3.0.CO;2-Z.


Little is known about the timing or sequence of genesis of connections between different areas of the developing human cerebral cortex. It has been shown that connections between areas V1 and V2 of the visual isocortex are established at about 37 weeks of gestation (Burkhalter [1993] Cerebr. Cortex 3:476-487), suggesting that cortico-cortical connections appear late in the 40-week human gestational period. However, there are indications from other studies that connections between subdivisions of the hippocampal formation may be established much earlier, by about 20 weeks of human gestation. To investigate this possibility, the lipophilic bidirectional tracer 1,1' dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI) was used to study connections between the entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, and temporal lobe neocortex in paraformaldehyde-fixed postmortem fetal tissue. The DiI transport revealed robust reciprocal connections between the entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, and subiculum, which were consistently present at 19 weeks of gestation (the earliest age studied), and which were anatomically similar to those in adult primates. Specifically, projections to the hippocampus and subiculum originated from neurons in the entorhinal cortex (EC) layers 2 and 3, whereas reciprocal projections to the EC originated from pyramidal neurons in the cornu ammonis region CA1 and the subiculum. In contrast, the perforant pathway projection from EC to the dentate gyrus, and all connections with the neocortex, reached only rudimentary stages of development by 22 weeks of gestation (the latest age studied). These findings suggest that hippocampal pathways develop prior to isocortical pathways, and that reciprocal entorhinal-hippocampal projections may be among the first cortico-cortical connections to be established in the human brain.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / ultrastructure
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology*