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27.4B: Neurulation

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    Following gastrulation, the neurulation process develops the neural tube in the ectoderm, above the notochord of the mesoderm.

    Learning Objectives
    • Outline the process of neurulation

    Key Points

    • The notochord stimulates neurulation in the ectoderm after its development.
    • The neuronal cells running along the back of the embryo form the neural plate, which folds outward to become a groove.
    • During primary neurulation, the folds of the groove fuse to form the neural tube. The anterior portion of the tube forms the basal plate, the posterior portion forms the alar plate, and the center forms the neural canal.
    • The ends of the neural tube close at the conclusion of the fourth week of gestation.

    Key Terms

    • basal plate: In the developing nervous system, this is the region of the neural tube ventral to the sulcus limitans. It extends from the rostral mesencephalon to the end of the spinal cord and contains primarily motor neurons.
    • neurulation: The process that forms the vertebrate nervous system in embryos.
    • alar plate: The alar plate (or alar lamina) is a neural structure in the embryonic nervous system, part of the dorsal side of the neural tube, that involves the communication of general somatic and general visceral sensory impulses. The caudal part later becomes the sensory axon part of the spinal cord.
    • notochord: Composed of cells derived from the mesoderm, this provides
      signals to the surrounding tissue during development.

    Neurulation is the formation of the neural tube from the ectoderm of the embryo. It follows gastrulation in all vertebrates. During gastrulation cells migrate to the interior of the embryo, forming the three germ layers: the endoderm (the deepest layer), the mesoderm (the middle layer), and the ectoderm (the surface layer) from which all tissues and organs will arise.

    In a simplified way, it can be said that the ectoderm gives rise to skin and the nervous system, the endoderm to the intestinal organs, and the mesoderm to the rest of the organs.

    After gastrulation, the notochord—a flexible, rod-shaped body that runs along the back of the embryo—is formed from the mesoderm. During the third week of gestation the notochord sends signals to the overlying ectoderm, inducing it to become neuroectoderm.

    This results in a strip of neuronal stem cells that runs along the back of the fetus. This strip is called the neural plate, and it is the origin of the entire nervous system.

    The neural plate folds outwards to form the neural groove. Beginning in the future neck region, the neural folds of this groove close to create the neural tube (this form of neurulation is called primary neurulation).

    The anterior (ventral or front) part of the neural tube is called the basal plate; the posterior (dorsal or rear) part is called the alar plate. The hollow interior is called the neural canal. By the end of the fourth week of gestation, the open ends of the neural tube (the neuropores) close off.

    This is a series of illustrations of transverse sections that show the progression of the neural plate into the neural tube. The first illustration shows the neural plate as flat, laying atop the mesoderm and notochord. The second shows the neural plate bending down, with the tow tends joining at the neural plate borders, which are now referred to as the neural crest. The third shows the closure of the neural tube and how this disconnects the neural crest from the epidermis. The neural crest cells differentiate to form most of the peripheral nervous system. Finally, the notochord degenerates and other mesoderm cells differentiate into the somites.

    Neurulation: Transverse sections that show the progression of the neural plate into the neural tube.

    Secondary neurulation of vertebrates occurs when primary neurulation terminates. It is the process by which the neural tube at the lower levels and the caudal to the mid-sacral region is formed.

    In general, it entails the cells of the neural plate forming a cord-like structure that migrates inside the embryo and hollows to form the tube. Each organism uses primary and secondary neurulation to varying degrees (except fish, which use only secondary neurulation).


    Spina bifida is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the neural tube during neurulation.

    This is an illustration of a child with spina bifida. An open defect is seen at the base of the child's spine.

    Spina bifida: An illustration of a child with spina bifida

    27.4B: Neurulation is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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