Disentangling neural cell diversity using single-cell transcriptomics

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Aug 26;19(9):1131-41. doi: 10.1038/nn.4366.


Cellular specialization is particularly prominent in mammalian nervous systems, which are composed of millions to billions of neurons that appear in thousands of different 'flavors' and contribute to a variety of functions. Even in a single brain region, individual neurons differ greatly in their morphology, connectivity and electrophysiological properties. Systematic classification of all mammalian neurons is a key goal towards deconstructing the nervous system into its basic components. With the recent advances in single-cell gene expression profiling technologies, it is now possible to undertake the enormous task of disentangling neuronal heterogeneity. High-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing and multiplexed quantitative RT-PCR have become more accessible, and these technologies enable systematic categorization of individual neurons into groups with similar molecular properties. Here we provide a conceptual and practical guide to classification of neural cell types using single-cell gene expression profiling technologies.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Transcriptome / physiology*