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Floor plate

Floor plate
The floor plate separates the left and right basal plates of the developing neural tube.
Precursor Notochord
System Nervous system
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Anatomical terminology

The floor plate is a structure integral to the developing nervous system of vertebrate organisms. Located on the ventral midline of the embryonic neural tube, the floor plate is a specialized glial structure that spans the anteroposterior axis from the midbrain to the tail regions. It has been shown that the floor plate is conserved among vertebrates with homologous structures in invertebrates such as the fruit fly Drosophila and the nematode C. elegans. Functionally, the structure serves as an organizer to ventralize tissues in the embryo as well as to guide neuronal positioning and differentiation along the dorsoventral axis of the neural tube.[1][2][3]


Induction of the floor plate during embryogenesis of vertebrate embryos has been studied extensively in chick and zebrafish and occurs as a result of a complex signaling network among tissues, the details of which have yet to be fully refined. Currently there are several competing lines of thought. First, floor plate differentiation may be mediated by inductive signaling from the underlying notochord, an axial mesoderm derived signaling structure. This is supported experimentally in chick, in which floor plate induction, as well as associative ventral nervous tissue differentiation, is mediated by the secreted signaling molecule Sonic hedgehog (Shh). Shh is expressed in a gradient with highest concentration localized in the notochord and floor plate. In vitro tissue grafting experiments show that removal of this molecule prevents differentiation of the floor plate, whereas its ectopic expression induces differentiation of floor plate cells.[4] An alternative view proposes that neural tube floor plate cells stem from precursor cells which migrate directly from axial mesoderm. Through chick – quail hybrid experiments as well as genetic interaction experiments in zebrafish, it appears that notochord and floor plate cells originate from a common precursor. Furthermore, in zebrafish, Nodal signaling is required for differentiation of medial floor plate cells whereas Shh is expendable. These data may indicate that the floor plate induction mechanism in amniotes and anamniotes differs.[5] To reconcile these differences, a dual-mode induction model has been proposed in chick. In this model, exclusively ectodermal cells are induced to become medial floor plate during gastrulation by prechordal mesoderm, possibly through Nodal signaling. Later in development during neurulation, extended contact and interaction between notochord and fated floor plate cells causes differentiation, suggesting a cooperative effect between Nodal and Shh signaling.[6]

Axon Guidance

In the development of the central nervous system, the decision of a neuron to cross or not cross the midline is critical. In vertebrates, this choice is mediated by the floor plate, and enables the embryo to develop successful left and right body halves with respect to nervous tissue. For example, while ipsilateral neurons do not cross the midline, commissural neurons cross the midline forming a single commissure. These particular neurons develop in the dorsal region of the neural tube and travel ventrally toward the floor plate. Upon reaching the floor plate, commissural neurons cross through the structure to emerge on the opposite side of the neural tube, whereupon they project anteriorly or posteriorly within the tube.[7]

Crossing of commissural axons across the midline in vertebrates is mediated by signaling in the floor plate of the neural tube. On the left panel an axon initiates its projection within the tube. On the right panel, the neuron initially receives chemoattractive signaling from netrin ligands and chemorepellents from slit ligands (1). When the neuron commits to crossing, Robo-3 inhibits the repulsion signal received by Robo-1/2 from slit, allowing attraction (2). After crossing, Robo-1/2 is upregulated and again inhibits crossing via the ligand slit (3).
  • Netrins: Netrins are proteins expressed and secreted by cells of the floor plate. Experiments using floor plate extracts and commissural neurons embedded in a collegen matrix show attraction of neurons towards the floor plate in vitro.[8] Moreover, Isolation and transfection of Netrin-1 and Netrin-2, two secreted proteins, into Cos cells has similar effects.[9] Further research confirmed that Netrins act as attractant proteins in addition to Shh to guide commissural axons toward the floor plate.[10] Netrins are secreted by the floor plate cells and function to bind the axon receptor DCC in a chemotactic manner.
  • Slit: Slit is a secreted ligand expressed in the floor plate and functions to inhibit axonal crossing of the neural tube. While netrins attract commissural neurons toward the midline, slit proteins repel and expel neurons from the midline. As axons not destined to cross the midline project through the neural tube they are repelled by the ligand slit which is expressed in the cells of the floor plate. Slit acts through its receptors Roundabout (Robo) 1 and 2. This interaction inhibits the chemotaxis provided by the Netrin/DCC pathway. However, Robo-3 (Rig-1) is upregulated during growth of commissural axons during migration toward the floor plate, which sequesters Robo-1/2 inside the cell within vesicles. Consequently, the Netrin/DCC attraction pathway dominates over the Slit/Robo repulsion pathway and the axon can grow toward the midline and enter the floor plate. Upon entering, through a mechanism not yet fully understood, Robo-3 becomes downregulated and this liberates and upregulates Robo-1/2, effectively repelling the neuron from the floor plate midline. Through this complex cross talk of Slit, Robo-1/2, and Robo-3, commissural axons are guided toward the midline to cross the neural tube and prevented from crossing back.[11]

The signaling molecules guiding the growth and projections of commissural neurons have well studied homologs in invertebrates. In the Netrin/DCC chemoattraction pathway the C. elegans homologs are Unc-6/Unc-40 and Unc-5 while the Drosophila homologs are Netrin-A and Netrin-B/Frazzled and Dunc5. In the Slit/Robo chemoreppelant pathway the C. elegans homologs are Slt-1/Sax-3 whereas the Drosophila homologs are also known as Slit/Robo(1-3).[12]


  1. ^ "Wolpert, Lewis. Principles of Development: 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2007."
  2. ^ "Gilbert, Scott F. Principles of Development: 8th Edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc. 2006."
  3. ^ "Jessell, Thomas M. Neuronal Specification in the spinal cord: inductive signals and transcriptional codes. Nature Reviews Genetics. Oct, 2000(1)"
  4. ^ "Yamada, T. Control of Cell Pattern in the Developing Nervous System: Polarizing Activity of the Floor Plate and Notochord. Cell, Vol. 64, 635-647, February 8, 1991"
  5. ^ "Strahle, Uwe, et al. Vertebrate floor-plate specification: variations on common themes. Trends in Genetics Vol.20 No.3 March 2004"
  6. ^ "Patten, Iain, et al. Distinct modes of floor plate induction in the chick embryo. 19 June 2003. Development 130, 4809-4821"
  7. ^ "Guan KL and Rao Y. Signalling mechanisms mediating neuronal responses to guidance cues. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2003 Dec;4(12):941-56."
  8. ^ "Serafini, Tito, et al. The Netrins Define a Family of Axon Outgrowth-Promoting Proteins Homologous to C. elegans UNC-6. Cell, Vol. 79, 409-424. August 12, 1994"
  9. ^ "Kennedy, Timothy E, et al. Netrins Are Diffusible Chemotropic Factors for Commissural Axons in the Embryonic Spinal Cord. Cell, Vol. 79, 425-435, August 12, 1994"
  10. ^ "Charron, F, et al. The morphogen sonic hedgehog is an axonal chemoattractant that collaborates with netrin-1 in midline axon guidance. Cell. 2003 Apr 4;113(1):11-23."
  11. ^ "Long, Hua et al. Conserved Roles for Slit and Robo Proteins in Midline Commissural Axon Guidance. Neuron, Vol. 42, 213–223, April 22, 2004"
  12. ^ "Guan KL and Rao Y. Signalling mechanisms mediating neuronal responses to guidance cues. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2003 Dec;4(12):941-56."