Ontogeny of the human central nervous system: what is happening when?

Victorine B de Graaf-Peters, Mijna Hadders-Algra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The present paper reviews current data on the structural development of the human nervous system. Focus is on the timing of ontogenetic events in the telencephalon. Neuronal proliferation and migration especially occur during the first half of gestation; the second half of gestation is the period of the existence of the functionally important transient structure 'subplate' and the major period of glial cell proliferation and programmed cell death. Axon and dendrite sprouting and synapse formation bloom during the last trimester of gestation and the first postnatal year. Major part of telencephalic myelination occurs during the first year after birth. Many developmental processes, such as myelination, synapse formation and synapse elimination continue throughout childhood and adolescence. Evidence is emerging that the peak of synapse elimination occurs between puberty and the onset of adulthood. Neurotransmitter systems are present from early foetal life onwards and their pre- and perinatal development is characterized by periods of transient overexpression. The latter is for instance true for the acetylcholinergic, catecholaminergic and glutamate systems. Thus, the development of the human brain is characterized by a protracted, neatly orchestrated chain of specific ontogenetic events. The continuous changes of the nervous system have consequences for vulnerability to adverse conditions, for diagnostics and for physiotherapeutical intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-266
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • animals
  • cell differentiation
  • humans
  • neurotransmitter agents
  • nervous sytems


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