Proliferation and apoptosis in the developing human neocortex

Wood Yee Chan, Dietrich E. Lorke, Sau Cheung Tiu, David T. Yew

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


The cell kinetics of the developing central nervous system (CNS) is determined by both proliferation and apoptosis. In the human neocortex at week 6 of gestation, proliferation is confined to the ventricular zone, where mitotic figures and nuclear immunoreactivity for proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) are detectable. Cell division is symmetric, with both daughter cells reentering mitosis. At week 7, the subventricular zone, a secondary proliferative zone, appears. It mainly gives rise to local circuit neurons and glial cells. Around week 12, the ventricular and subventricular zones are thickest, and the nuclear PCNA label is strongest, indicating that proliferation peaks at this stage. Thereafter, asymmetric division becomes the predominant mode of proliferation, with one daughter cell reentering mitosis and the other one migrating out. Towards late gestation, the ventricular and subventricular zones almost completely disappear and proliferation shifts towards the intermediate and subplate zones, where mainly glial cells are generated. A remnant of the subventricular zone with proliferative activity persists into adulthood. In general, proliferation follows a latero-medial gradient in the neocortex lasting longer in its lateral parts. Apoptotic nuclei have been detected around week 5, occurring in low numbers in the ventricular zone at this stage. Apoptotic cell death increases around midgestation and then spreads throughout all cortical layers, with most dying cells located in the ventricular and subventricular zones. This spatial distribution of apoptosis extends into late gestation. During the early postnatal period, most apoptotic cells are still located in the subcortical layers. During early embryonic development, proliferation and apoptosis are closely related, and are probably regulated by common regulators. In the late fetal and early postnatal periods, when proliferation has considerably declined in all cortical layers, apoptosis may occur in neurons whose sprouting axons do not find their targets.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)261-276
Number of pages16
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2002


  • Apoptosis
  • Corticogenesis
  • Development
  • Human neocortex
  • Mitosis
  • Proliferation
  • Review
  • Subplate
  • Subventricular zone
  • Ventricular zone


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