Cortical layers: Cyto-, myelo-, receptor- and synaptic architecture in human cortical areas

Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 15;197:716-741. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.08.035. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Cortical layers have classically been identified by their distinctive and prevailing cell types and sizes, as well as the packing densities of cell bodies or myelinated fibers. The densities of multiple receptors for classical neurotransmitters also vary across the depth of the cortical ribbon, and thus determine the neurochemical properties of cyto- and myeloarchitectonic layers. However, a systematic comparison of the correlations between these histologically definable layers and the laminar distribution of transmitter receptors is currently lacking. We here analyze the densities of 17 different receptors of various transmitter systems in the layers of eight cytoarchitectonically identified, functionally (motor, sensory, multimodal) and hierarchically (primary and secondary sensory, association) distinct areas of the human cerebral cortex. Maxima of receptor densities are found in different layers when comparing different cortical regions, i.e. laminar receptor densities demonstrate differences in receptorarchitecture between isocortical areas, notably between motor and primary sensory cortices, specifically the primary visual and somatosensory cortices, as well as between allocortical and isocortical areas. Moreover, considerable differences are found between cytoarchitectonical and receptor architectonical laminar patterns. Whereas the borders of cyto- and myeloarchitectonic layers are well comparable, the laminar profiles of receptor densities rarely coincide with the histologically defined borders of layers. Instead, highest densities of most receptors are found where the synaptic density is maximal, i.e. in the supragranular layers, particularly in layers II-III. The entorhinal cortex as an example of the allocortex shows a peculiar laminar organization, which largely deviates from that of all the other cortical areas analyzed here.

Keywords: Allocortex; Association cortex; Cerebral cortex; Cortical layers; Cytoarchitecture; Isocortex; Motor cortex; Myeloarchitecture; Sensory cortex; Synaptic density; Transmitter receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*


  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter