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Embryology Of The Nervous System

Discover the fascinating development of the nervous system in its earliest stages, unraveling the secrets of embryology and its implications for human health.

USMLE Guide: Embryology of the Nervous System


Embryology of the nervous system is a vital topic for understanding the development and function of the human nervous system. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the key concepts and developmental processes involved in the formation of the nervous system.

I. Neural Tube Formation

  • The neural tube is formed through a process called neurulation.
  • Neurulation begins around day 18-20 of gestation.
  • The neural plate, derived from the ectoderm, undergoes folding to form the neural tube.
  • Failure of neural tube closure can result in neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

II. Primary Vesicles

  • The neural tube differentiates into three primary vesicles: prosencephalon, mesencephalon, and rhombencephalon.
  • The prosencephalon further develops into the telencephalon and diencephalon.
  • The mesencephalon remains undivided.
  • The rhombencephalon differentiates into the metencephalon and myelencephalon.

III. Secondary Vesicles

  • The telencephalon develops into the cerebral hemispheres and lateral ventricles.
  • The diencephalon gives rise to the thalamus, hypothalamus, epithalamus, and third ventricle.
  • The mesencephalon becomes the midbrain.
  • The metencephalon differentiates into the pons, cerebellum, and upper part of the fourth ventricle.
  • The myelencephalon forms the medulla oblongata and lower part of the fourth ventricle.

IV. Development of Brain Structures

  • The cerebral cortex develops from the telencephalon.
  • The cerebellum arises from the metencephalon.
  • The medulla oblongata forms from the myelencephalon.
  • The midbrain, pons, and thalamus develop from the mesencephalon.
  • The hypothalamus and epithalamus originate from the diencephalon.

V. Neural Crest Cells

  • Neural crest cells migrate from the neural tube to various locations.
  • They give rise to peripheral nervous system components, including sensory ganglia, autonomic ganglia, and Schwann cells.
  • Neural crest cells also contribute to non-neural structures such as facial bones and melanocytes.
  • Failure of neural crest migration can lead to conditions like neurocristopathies.

VI. Development of Spinal Cord

  • The spinal cord develops from the caudal part of the neural tube.
  • It elongates as the embryo grows, but the neural tube remains open at the caudal end.
  • The spinal cord segments correspond to the vertebral levels.
  • The spinal cord differentiates into gray matter (neuron cell bodies) and white matter (axons).

VII. Development of Cranial Nerves

  • Cranial nerves originate from the brainstem.
  • They are numbered I to XII and serve various functions, including sensory, motor, and autonomic.
  • Some cranial nerves, like the olfactory and optic nerves, are direct extensions of the brain.

VIII. Blood Supply to the Brain

  • The developing brain receives blood supply from the paired internal carotid arteries and vertebral arteries.
  • The internal carotid arteries supply the anterior and middle cerebral arteries.
  • The vertebral arteries merge to form the basilar artery, supplying the posterior cerebral arteries.

IX. Developmental Defects

  • Abnormalities in embryological development can lead to congenital malformations of the nervous system.
  • Examples include anencephaly, holoprosencephaly, Arnold-Chiari malformation, and Dandy-Walker syndrome.
  • These defects can result from genetic, environmental, or multifactorial causes.


Understanding the embryology of the nervous system is crucial for physicians and medical students. It provides a foundation for comprehending the anatomy and function of the brain and spinal cord. This guide has covered the key points related to neural tube formation, vesicle differentiation, brain structure development, neural crest cells, spinal cord development, cranial nerves, blood supply, and common developmental defects.

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