Research Article

Evolution of pallium, hippocampus, and cortical cell types revealed by single-cell transcriptomics in reptiles

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Science  25 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6391, pp. 881-888
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4237

Evolution of the brain

Just how related are reptilian and mammalian brains? Tosches et al. used single-cell transcriptomics to study turtle, lizard, mouse, and human brain samples. They assessed how the mammalian six-layered cortex might be derived from the reptilian three-layered cortex. Despite a lack of correspondence between layers, mammalian astrocytes and adult neural stem cells shared evolutionary origins. General classes of interneuron types were represented across the evolutionary span, although subtypes were species-specific. Pieces of the much-folded mammalian hippocampus were represented as adjacent fields in the reptile brains.

Science, this issue p. 881


Computations in the mammalian cortex are carried out by glutamatergic and γ-aminobutyric acid–releasing (GABAergic) neurons forming specialized circuits and areas. Here we asked how these neurons and areas evolved in amniotes. We built a gene expression atlas of the pallium of two reptilian species using large-scale single-cell messenger RNA sequencing. The transcriptomic signature of glutamatergic neurons in reptilian cortex suggests that mammalian neocortical layers are made of new cell types generated by diversification of ancestral gene-regulatory programs. By contrast, the diversity of reptilian cortical GABAergic neurons indicates that the interneuron classes known in mammals already existed in the common ancestor of all amniotes.

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