The neuroectoderm is a part of the outer layer of an embryo that differentiates into a number of structures associated with the brain and nervous system. Two different components are involved in the neuroectoderm, the neural crest and the neurotube. Errors with development of this part of the embryo can result in pregnancy loss or significant birth defects. These are not always preventable, although there are some steps parents can take to reduce the risk of developing issues like neural tube defects.
Within the neuroectoderm, the neural tube contains cells that will eventually form the brain and spinal cord. One of the causes of neural tube defects, where this process goes awry, is insufficient folic acid in the gestating mother. People preparing to get pregnant may take folic acid supplements, and they need to keep taking them through pregnancy to support the developing fetus. The early formation of the neuroectoderm makes it critical to take supplements before pregnancy, as once people are aware of the pregnancy, it may be too late.
The neural crest contributes to the formation of the peripheral nervous system, along with structures like parts of the heart and face. Problems with these may cause birth defects of varying degrees, depending on the nature of the issue and its location. These cells are pluripotent, capable of differentiating into a number of different tissue types when stimulated. The rich potency of these embryonic stem cells makes them a topic of interest among researchers, who can use donated embryonic material to culture cells for experimental purposes.
Embryonic formation goes through a number of stages, mediated by chemical signals that control the division and migration of cells. As the cells start to multiply, the neuroectoderm forms, and the cells inside must migrate into position to start growing into various physical structures. As these structures appear, they can grow and connect with other systems in the developing embryo, gradually maturing in the later phase of gestation until the baby is ready to be born.
Progress in the formation of the structures associated with the neuroectoderm can be gauged with ultrasound imaging of the developing fetus. Fetal development follows a timeline, and a technician can determine if a pregnancy is within normal bounds or if there is a problem, like delayed development. The technician can look for specific structures and may measure them to check for signs of birth defects, some of which leave telltale signs that may be visible on ultrasound.