During development a limited number of progenitors generate diverse cell types that comprise the nervous system. Neuronal diversity, which arises largely at the level of neural stem cells, is critical for brain function. Often these cells exhibit temporal patterning: they sequentially produce neurons of distinct cell fates as a consequence of intrinsic and/or extrinsic cues. Here, we review recent advances in temporal patterning during neuronal specification, focusing on conserved players and mechanisms in invertebrate and vertebrate models. These studies underscore temporal patterning as an evolutionarily conserved strategy to generate neuronal diversity. Understanding the general principles governing temporal patterning and the molecular players involved will improve our ability to direct neural progenitors towards specific neuronal fates for brain repair.
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