Relationship: 747



Hippocampal gene expression, Altered leads to Hippocampal anatomy, Altered

Upstream event


Hippocampal gene expression, Altered

Downstream event


Hippocampal anatomy, Altered

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
mouse Mus musculus Moderate NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus High NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence
Male High
Female High

Life Stage Applicability


Term Evidence
During brain development Moderate

Key Event Relationship Description


The basic biological processes that link gene regulation in the structural formation and function of all organs of the body are similar throughout the developing organism.  In the developing brain, genes encode proteins critical for developmental events intrinsic to structural development (e.g., neurogenesis, neuronal migration, synaptogenesis, myelination). The development of the hippocampus is no exception to this general rule of biology.

Evidence Supporting this KER


The overall weight of evidence is moderate for a direct linkage between perturbation of the expression of genes in brain (and in hippocampus specifically) and neuroanatomical abnormalities.  It is widely acknowledged that the development of the structure of the hippocampus is under the control of hippocampal gene expression. However, while an extensive body of literature exists linking some genes to hippocampal structure, there is no complete compendium on the total number of genes involved, nor direct causative links between the myriad of genes and the intricate development (both timing and location) of the majority of hippocampal structure. 

Biological Plausibility


The biological plausibility of this KER is rated as strong. It is well established that gene regulation controls brain development.  This also applies to the development of the hippocampus, where nuclear thyroid receptors that regulate gene transcription, directly or indirectly via transcription factor regulation, to control translation.

Empirical Evidence


Empirical support for this KER is rated as strong. The number of publications in this area is extensive. A few examples are: Strange et al. (2014); Takei et al. (2016); and Shin et al. (2015). Work supporting the relationship includes use of a variety of animal models (i.e., nutritional deficiencies, chromosome abnormalities, gene deletions, knock out animals, toxicant exposures and developmental hormonal imbalance) (e.g., Frotscher, 2010; Castren and Castren, 2014; Spilker et al., 2016; Skucas et al., 2011; Lessman et al., 2011). Mutant mouse lines generated for genes involved in human cortical malformations such as doublecortin, reelin, Lis1 and Tuba1a also show gross disorganization within the hippocampus (Khalaf-Nazzal et al., 2013). Collectively, data from these studies clearly support the link between alterations in hippocampal gene expression and structural changes in hippocampal volume, cell number, and/or cytoarchitecture. A direct linkage between some specific gene targets and structural change in the hippocampus has been demonstrated using knock out and mutant mouse models (e.g., Grant et al., 1992; Lee et al., 2000; Frotscher, 2010; Castren and Castren, 2014; Spilker et al., 2016; Skucas et al., 2011; Lessman et al., 2011; Khalaf-Nazzal et al., 2013).

Temporal Evidence: The temporal nature of this KER is developmental (Seed et al., 2005). It is a well-recognized fact that there are critical developmental windows for disruption of TR-regulated genes and subsequent formation of the anatomy of the hippocampus. This has been demonstrated in multiple studies. Many of the gene-anatomy relationships critical to brain development only exist during development, or exist only to a very limited extent in the adult brain.  For example, genes controlling neuronal proliferation and migration are critically essential in hippocampal development, and their disruption results in abnormal hippocampal anatomy. Whereas, in the adult brain the genes are largely without effect as these processes are completed in the early neonatal period. In support of this, a limited number of studies have defined critical periods for the interaction of some genes and resulting neuroanatomical organization of the hippocampus (Lee et al., 2015; Favaro et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2000).  In addition, there are some ‘rescue’ experiments for a select number of genes (eg., Lee et al., 2015; Spilker et al., 2016). Several examples are described below:

In the Jacob/Nsfm knockout model, hippocampal dysplasia is seen in hippocampal areas CA1 and CA3, characterized by reduced complexity of the synapto-dendritic cytoarchitecture, shorter dendrites and fewer branches (Spilker et al., 2016). Simplified dendritic trees and reduced synaptogenesis were also observed in hippocampal primary neurons cultured from these knock out mice relative to cultures from wild type mice. The protein product of Jacob/Nsfm regulates activity-dependent brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) transcription. Lower BDNF levels were seen in area CA1 of knock out mice on postnatal day 10. The dysplasia seen in hippocampal neuronal cultures from knock mice could be reversed by BDNF supplementation if administered in early (2-4 days in vitro) but not later (15 days in vitro) in development.

Neuroregluin-2 (Nrg2) contributes to synaptogenesis of the granule cell layer of the hippocampus. In hippocampal slice cultures, inducible microRNA targeting strategies have demonstrated early suppression of Nrg2 (4 days in vitro) but not late suppression (7 days in vitro) reduced synaptogenesis of inhibitory neurons. On the other hand, late treatment impaired the dendritic outgrowth of excitatory synaptic connections.  These effects could be eliminated with overexpression of Nrg2 (Lee et al., 2015).

Many of the gene-regulated processes involved in hippocampal development are also present in the developing cortex. In models of prenatal hypothyroidism, altered expression patterns of many genes involved in neuronal migration and apoptosis are associated with disruptions in hippocampal organization and cytoarchitecture of the cerebral cortex (Pathak et al, 2011; Mohan et al., 2012; Lui et al., 2010). Structural changes in hippocampus and cerebral cortex are dependent on time of exposure (Auso et al., 2003; Berbel et al., 2010; Pathak et al., 2011) and can be reversed with TH supplementation (Mohan et al., 2012; Pathak et al., 2011; Berbel et al., 2010).

Dose-Response Evidence: Dose-response data is lacking for this KER.  Papers that utilize knock-out and mutant models do not provide ‘dose-response’ information for gene-anatomy relationships. Studies in which genes and anatomy were reported following developmental hypothyroidism were single high-dose studies that focused on varying the developmental window of exposure, but not necessarily the dose.

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies


There are no inconsistencies in this KER, but there are some uncertainties. Few studies exist that report both gene expression changes and structural changes in the hippocampus in same study to provide direct causative evidence for this KER. Lacking also is the specific suite of genes that are altered in the hippocampus at particular developmental times that are causal to the structural defects reported. For future research, it is critical to generate data in which the upstream KE is modulated in a ‘dose-response’ manner to better support the causative relationship. Significant data gaps also exist for basic fetal hippocampal development.

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


Response-response Relationship


There are no data on the quantitative linkages between gene expression changes and altered hippocampal anatomy.



Known modulating factors


Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER


Domain of Applicability


The majority of data in support of this KER is from rodent models.  The evolutionary conservation of thyroid receptors (Holzer et al., 2017) coupled with their role in TR regulated gene transcription in neurodevelopment, suggests that this KER may also be applicable to other species. 



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Shin JH, Kim YN, Kim IY, Choi DH, Yi SS, Seong JK.  Increased Cell Proliferations and Neurogenesis in the Hippocampal Dentate Gyrus of Ahnak Deficient Mice.  Neurochem Res. 2015 Jul;40(7):1457-62.

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