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Yale J Biol Med. 2017 September; 90(3): 519–520.
Published online 2017 September 25.
PMCID: PMC5612198
Focus: Comparative Medicine

Foundations of Neural Development

Reviewed by Chelsea Xu

S. Marc Breedlove 
Foundations of Neural Development.
2017. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers: Sunderland, MA. ISBN: (Hardcover) 978-1605355795. US $99.95. 378 p.

Foundations of Neural Development was created out of need for an updated developmental neuroscience text aimed at an undergraduate audience. Similar to other textbooks of this nature, the material is presented with developmental events in chronological order, beginning with cell differentiation and embryonic development in the very first chapter and ending with social behaviors in the final chapter. Uniquely, Breedlove offers both evolutionary and philosophical perspectives that contextualize these wide-ranging topics.

The provided evolutionary perspective consists of four critical events giving rise to the evolution of the human brain. The first is the shift to cell-cell communication for cues directing cell differentiation. Whether this entails direct contact or diffusible signals, cell-cell communication drives the establishment of a body plan (Chapters 1-2), cell division and migration (Chapter 3), differentiation of neurons and glia (Chapter 4), path of axonal growth cones (Chapter 5), initiation and maturation of synapses (Chapter 6), and apoptosis (Chapter 7). An extension of cell-cell communication mechanisms to electrical activity leads to the second critical event, activity-guided synaptic plasticity through which neurons can affect their connections with other cells (Chapter 8). Together with the development of activity-guided synaptic plasticity is the third event, the development of sensory experience-dependent guidance of development (Chapter 9). Lastly, the cumulative effect of the previously stated events is the shaping of brain development by behavior and social experience (Chapter 10). With the chapters in this text organized around these four events, the evolutionary perspective is useful for understanding and consolidating the material.

In contrast, the philosophical perspective that attempts to discuss the complementary relationship between developmental neuroscience and epistemology may seem superfluous. Parallels drawn between scientists and philosophers in the study of knowledge existing before birth can be interesting but also distracting and unnecessary for understanding the scientific mechanisms discussed.

Vignettes at the beginning of each chapter relate to a relevant human condition, and inserts with classical or ongoing studies appear in boxes throughout. The figures are exceptionally presented and informative. As a whole, there is a focus on neuronal developmental mechanisms and some behavior, but lack of detailed information on glial populations. This text serves as a broad introduction to neural development.

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