Beyond laminar fate: toward a molecular classification of cortical projection/pyramidal neurons

Dev Neurosci. Mar-Aug 2003;25(2-4):139-51. doi: 10.1159/000072263.


Cortical projection neurons exhibit diverse morphological, physiological, and molecular phenotypes, but it is unknown how many distinct types exist. Many projection cell phenotypes are associated with laminar fate (radial position), but each layer may also contain multiple types of projection cells. We have investigated two hypotheses: (1) that different projection cell types exhibit characteristic molecular expression profiles and (2) that laminar fates are determined primarily by molecular phenotype. We found that several transcription factors were differentially expressed by projection neurons, even within the same layer: Otx1 and Er81, for example, were expressed by different neurons in layer 5. Retrograde tracing showed that Er81 was expressed in corticospinal and corticocortical neurons. In contrast, Otx1 has been detected only in corticobulbar neurons [Weimann et al., Neuron 1999;24:819-831]. Birthdating demonstrated that different molecularly defined types were produced sequentially, in overlapping waves. Cells adopted laminar fates characteristic of their molecular phenotypes, regardless of cell birthday. Molecular markers also revealed the locations of different projection cell types in the malformed cortex of reeler mice. These studies suggest that molecular profiles can be used advantageously for classifying cortical projection cells, for analyzing their neurogenesis and fate specification, and for evaluating cortical malformations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Bromodeoxyuridine
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Mice
  • Mice, Neurologic Mutants
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neurons / classification*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis*


  • Biomarkers
  • Transcription Factors
  • Bromodeoxyuridine