Modeling Neural Stem Cell Dynamics in Congenital Heart Disease

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Virginia Tech


Neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) play a crucial part in the evolutionary development of the human neocortex. During early postnatal development, NSPCs give rise to immature neurons called neuroblasts within the subventricular zone (SVZ) that utilize unique migratory streams to integrate widely in the cerebral cortex. However, the cellular mechanisms enabling these unique migratory routes through the compacted cellular landscape remain unknown. Special emphasis has been placed on understanding the susceptibility of these brain regions to severe conditions such as congenital heart disease (CHD), resulting in poor neurological outcomes. Owing to its reminiscent complexity to humans, the neonatal piglet (Sus scrofa domesticus), which possesses a highly evolved gyrencephalic neocortex and an expansive outer SVZ, provides a powerful translational model system for the study of how heart dysfunction impacts cortical development from both a modern and evolutionary perspective. The present study provides a detailed characterization of neuroblast migration along their associate substrates in the piglet cortex under normal physiological conditions and how reduced oxygenation (i.e., hypoxia) can impact their vulnerability and/or resistance to injury during a critical period of postnatal development.

In this thesis, I investigated the spatiotemporal distribution and developmental origin of SVZ-derived neuroblasts. Following BrdU tracing, multiplex labeling, and confocal microscopy, I show that the porcine brain contains populations of newly generated (BrdU+/DCX+) neurons in the prefrontal cortex that are produced postnatally. Regional analyses using immunohistochemical staining for doublecortin (DCX), a marker expressed by immature neurons, revealed that DCX+ clusters co-express markers of neuronal cell migration (PSA-NCAM), GABAergic interneuron marker (GABA+), and specific transcription factors (SCGN+SP8+) associated with the caudal- and lateral ganglionic eminence progenitor domains in the ventral forebrain. Moreover, I found that DCX+ neuroblasts are encased by astrocytic processes and tightly associated with blood vessels in the SVZ. Additionally, this thesis describes the use of chronic hypoxia as a model to profile neuroblast migration along associated substrates in pathological conditions related to CHD. Together, this work serves as a framework for the functional utilization of the neonatal piglet to understand the impact of substrate-dependent neuronal migration on brain maturation and neurodevelopmental diseases.



Human brain, Neurogenesis, Cell Migration, Subventricular Zone, Neuroblast, Neocortex