The Ferret as a Model System for Neocortex Development and Evolution
ETH Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
Human Technopole, Milan, Italy
The neocortex is the largest part of the cerebral cortex and a key structure involved in human behavior and cognition. Comparison of neocortex development across mammals reveals that the proliferative capacity of neural stem and progenitor cells and the length of the neurogenic period are essential for regulating neocortex size and complexity, which in turn are thought to be instrumental for the increased cognitive abilities in humans. The domesticated ferret, Mustela putorius furo, is an important animal model in neurodevelopment for its complex postnatal cortical folding, its long period of forebrain development and its accessibility to genetic manipulation in vivo. Here, we discuss the molecular, cellular, and histological features that make this small gyrencephalic carnivore a suitable animal model to study the physiological and pathological mechanisms for the development of an expanded neocortex. We particularly focus on the mechanisms of neural stem cell proliferation, neuronal differentiation, cortical folding, visual system development, and neurodevelopmental pathologies. We further discuss the technological advances that have enabled the genetic manipulation of the ferret in vivo. Finally, we compare the features of neocortex development in the ferret with those of other model organisms.