The development of the mammalian neocortex relies heavily on subplate. The proportion of this cell population varies considerably in different mammalian species. Subplate is almost undetectable in marsupials, forms a thin, but distinct layer in mouse and rat, a larger layer in carnivores and big-brained mammals as pig, and a highly developed embryonic structure in human and non-human primates. The evolutionary origin of subplate neurons is the subject of current debate. Some hypothesize that subplate represents the ancestral cortex of sauropsids, while others consider it to be an increasingly complex phylogenetic novelty of the mammalian neocortex. Here we review recent work on expression of several genes that were originally identified in rodent as highly and differentially expressed in subplate. We relate these observations to cellular morphology, birthdating, and hodology in the dorsal cortex/dorsal pallium of several amniote species. Based on this reviewed evidence we argue for a third hypothesis according to which subplate contains both ancestral and newly derived cell populations. We propose that the mammalian subplate originally derived from a phylogenetically ancient structure in the dorsal pallium of stem amniotes, but subsequently expanded with additional cell populations in the synapsid lineage to support an increasingly complex cortical plate development. Further understanding of the detailed molecular taxonomy, somatodendritic morphology, and connectivity of subplate in a comparative context should contribute to the identification of the ancestral and newly evolved populations of subplate neurons.
Keywords: Monodelphis domestica; cerebral cortex evolution; chick; human; pig; subplate; turtle.