The neocortex, which is characteristic of mammals, has evolved to play important roles in cognitive and perceptual functions. The localization of different functions in different regions of the neocortex was well established within the last century. Studies on the formation of the neocortex have advanced at the molecular level, thus clarifying the mechanisms that control neural or glial cell differentiation and sensory projections. However, mechanisms that underlie cortical area specialization remain unsolved. To address this problem, our approach has been to isolate and characterize the genes that are selectively expressed in particular subsets of neocortical areas in primates; these areas are most distinctive among mammals. By differential display and restriction landmark cDNA scanning (RLCS) methods, we have identified two major classes of genes that are specifically expressed in the adult macaque monkey neocortical areas: one is expressed in the primary sensory areas, particularly, in the primary visual cortex (V1) and the other is expressed in the association areas. The genes that show these specific expression patterns are limited to only several gene families among our large-scale screening. In this review, I first describe the isolation and characterization of these genes, along with another class of genes specifically expressed in motor areas. Then, I discuss their functional significance in the primate neocortex. Finally, I discuss the implication of these gene expression patterns in neocortical specialization in primates and possible future research directions.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.