The six-layered neocortex permits complex information processing in all mammalian species. Because its homologous region (the pallium) in nonmammalian amniotes has a different architecture, the ability of neocortical progenitors to generate an orderly sequence of distinct cell types was thought to have arisen in the mammalian lineage. This study, however, shows that layer-specific neuron subtypes do exist in the chick pallium. Deep- and upper-layer neurons are not layered but are segregated in distinct mediolateral domains in vivo. Surprisingly, cultured chick neural progenitors produce multiple layer-specific neuronal subtypes in the same chronological sequence as seen in mammals. These results suggest that the temporal sequence of the neocortical neurogenetic program was already inherent in the last common ancestor of mammals and birds and that mammals use this conserved program to generate a uniformly layered neocortex, whereas birds impose spatial constraints on the sequence to pattern the pallium.
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