Research Article

Principles of connectivity among morphologically defined cell types in adult neocortex

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Science  27 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6264, aac9462
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9462

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A census of neocortical neurons

Despite the importance of the brain's neocortex, we still do not completely understand the diversity and functional connections of its cell types. Jiang et al. recorded, labeled, and classified over 1200 interneurons and more than 400 pyramidal neurons in the mature mouse visual cortex. Fifteen major classes of interneurons fell into three types: some connect to all neurons, some connect to other interneurons, and some form synapses with pyramidal neurons.

Science, this issue p. 10.1126/science.aac9462

Structured Abstract


The intricate microcircuitry of the cerebral cortex is thought to be a critical substrate from which arise the impressive capabilities of the mammalian brain. Until now, our knowledge of the stereotypical connectivity in neocortical microcircuits has been pieced together from individual studies of the connectivity between small numbers of neuronal cell types. Here, we provide unbiased, large-scale profiling of neuronal cell types and connections to reveal the essential building blocks of the cortex and the principles governing their assembly into cortical circuits. Using advanced techniques for tissue slicing, multiple simultaneous whole-cell recording, and morphological reconstruction, we are able to provide a comprehensive view of the connectivity between diverse types of neurons, particularly among types of γ-aminobutyric acid–releasing (GABAergic) interneurons, in the adult animal.


We took advantage of a method for preparing high-quality slices of adult tissue and combined this technique with octuple simultaneous, whole-cell recordings followed by an improved staining method that allowed detailed recovery of axonal and dendritic arbor morphology. These data allowed us to perform a census of morphologically and electrophysiologically defined neuronal types (primarily GABAergic interneurons) in neocortical layers 1, 2/3, and 5 (L1, L23, and L5, respectively) and to observe their connectivity patterns in adult animals.


Our large-scale, comprehensive profiling of neocortical neurons differentiated 15 major types of interneurons, in addition to two lamina-defined types of pyramidal neurons (L23 and L5). Cortical interneurons comprise two types in L1 (eNGC and SBC-like), seven in L23 (L23MC, L23NGC, BTC, BPC, DBC, L23BC, and ChC), and six in L5 (L5MC, L5NGC, L5BC, SC, HEC, and DC) (see the figure). Each type has stereotypical electrophysiological properties and morphological features and can be differentiated from all others by cell type–specific axonal geometry and axonal projection patterns. Importantly, each type of neuron has its own characteristic input-output connectivity profile, connecting with other constituent neuronal types with varying degrees of specificity in postsynaptic targets, laminar location, and synaptic characteristics. Despite specific connection patterns for each cell type, we found that a small number of simple connectivity motifs are repeated across layers and cell types defining a canonical cortical microcircuit.


Our comprehensive profiling of neuronal cell types and connections in adult neocortex provides the most complete wiring diagram of neocortical microcircuits to date. Compared with current genetic labels for cell class, which paint the cortex in broad strokes, our analysis of morphological and electrophysiological properties revealed new cell classes and allowed us to derive a small number of simple connectivity rules that were repeated across layers and cell types. This detailed blueprint of cortical wiring should aid efforts to identify specific circuit abnormalities in animal models of brain disease and may eventually provide a path toward the development of comprehensive circuit-based, cell type–specific interventions.

Connectivity among morphologically defined cell types in adult neocortex.

(A) Simultaneous octuple whole-cell recording to study connectivity followed by morphological reconstruction. (B) Synaptic connectivity between morphologically distinct types of neurons, including pyramidal (P) neurons. (C) Connectivity from NGCs to other cell types. This connectivity is believed to be nonsynaptic and mediated by volume transmission. Martinotti cell, MC; neurogliaform cell, NGC; basket cell, BC; single-bouquet cell-like cell, SBC-like; bitufted cell, BTC; bipolar cell, BPC, double-bouquet cell, DBC; chandelier cell, ChC; shrub cell, SC; horizontally elongated cell, HEC; deep-projecting cell, DC.


Since the work of Ramón y Cajal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, neuroscientists have speculated that a complete understanding of neuronal cell types and their connections is key to explaining complex brain functions. However, a complete census of the constituent cell types and their wiring diagram in mature neocortex remains elusive. By combining octuple whole-cell recordings with an optimized avidin-biotin-peroxidase staining technique, we carried out a morphological and electrophysiological census of neuronal types in layers 1, 2/3, and 5 of mature neocortex and mapped the connectivity between more than 11,000 pairs of identified neurons. We categorized 15 types of interneurons, and each exhibited a characteristic pattern of connectivity with other interneuron types and pyramidal cells. The essential connectivity structure of the neocortical microcircuit could be captured by only a few connectivity motifs.

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