Mapping Neuronal Diversity One Cell at a Time

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Science  16 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6147, pp. 726-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235884

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How many types of nerve cells are there in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS)? We still do not have a satisfactory answer to this deceptively simple question, and yet the precise assignment of nerve cells to well-defined subtype categories is critical both for elucidating the function of neural circuits and for the success of neural regenerative medicine. Amid the anatomical, electrophysiological, and biochemical diversity of nerve cells, the field is struggling to devise simple and clear criteria for neuronal classification. A universally applicable classification system should be based on traits that are objectively quantifiable, sufficiently diverse, and reproducible in independent laboratories. Such a classification method would provide new insights into CNS organization, development, and function, and might reveal unexpected relationships between neuronal subtypes.