Pyramidal neurons (PNs) represent the majority of neocortical cells and their involvement in cognitive functions is decisive. Therefore, they are the most obvious target of developmental disorders characterized by mental retardation. Genetic and non-genetic forms of intellectual disability share a few basic pathogenetic signatures that result in the anomalous function of PNs. Here, we review the key mechanisms impairing these neurons and their participation in the cortical network, with special focus on experimental models of fetal exposure to alcohol. Due to the heterogeneity of PNs, some alterations affect selectively a given cell population, which may also differ depending on the considered pathology. These specific features open new possibilities for the interpretation of cognitive defects observed in mental retardation syndromes, as well as for novel therapeutic interventions.
- calcium spikes
- dendritic spines
- fetal alcohol spectrum disorders