Similarities in neocortical circuit organization across areas and species suggest a common strategy to process diverse types of information, including sensation from diverse modalities, motor control and higher cognitive processes. Cortical neurons belong to a small number of main classes. The properties of these classes, including their local and long-range connectivity, developmental history, gene expression, intrinsic physiology and in vivo activity patterns, are remarkably similar across areas. Each class contains subclasses; for a rapidly growing number of these, conserved patterns of input and output connections are also becoming evident. The ensemble of circuit connections constitutes a basic circuit pattern that appears to be repeated across neocortical areas, with area- and species-specific modifications. Such 'serially homologous' organization may adapt individual neocortical regions to the type of information each must process.