Neuronal nuclear antigen (NeuN): a marker of neuronal maturation in early human fetal nervous system

Brain Dev. 1998 Mar;20(2):88-94. doi: 10.1016/s0387-7604(97)00111-3.


Neuronal nuclear antigen (NeuN) immunocytochemistry was studied in 15 normal human fetal nervous systems of 8-24 weeks gestation and in four term neonates. Material was derived from products of conception or from autopsy. Antigen retrieval was enhanced for immunocytochemistry by microwave heating of formalin-fixed paraffin sections. NeuN appears highly specific as a marker of neuronal nuclei in human fetal brain. Only rare nuclei are recognized in the germinal matrix. Cerebellar external granule cells are more strongly immunoreactive than postmigratory internal granule cells until 24 weeks gestation; by term most internal and only a few external granule cells are recognized by NeuN antibody. In the cerebrum, some reactive nuclei are demonstrated along radial glial fibers, particularly near the cortical plate. Within the cortical plate, only deep neurons (future layers 4-6) are marked at 19-22 weeks, but by 24 weeks most neurons in the cortical plate exhibit immunoreactivity, though at term some in layer 2 are still non-reactive. Some neurons fail to be recognized by NeuN at all ages: Cajal-Retzius cells, Purkinje cells, inferior olivary and dentate nucleus neurons, and sympathetic ganglion cells are examples. Despite their common origin in the cerebellar tubercle, basal pontine neurons are strongly reactive even before midgestation, hence NeuN does not predict embryonic origin. Neurons of dorsal root and cranial nerve ganglia are reactive even at 8 weeks. This study of normal fetal central nervous system provides a basis for neuropathological evaluation and as a prelude to applications in cerebral dysgeneses.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Nuclear
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development*
  • Fetus
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / embryology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Motor Neurons / cytology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nuclear Proteins / analysis*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Spinal Cord / cytology*
  • Spinal Cord / embryology*


  • Antigens, Nuclear
  • Biomarkers
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins