Hierarchy of transcriptomic specialization across human cortex captured by structural neuroimaging topography

Nat Neurosci. 2018 Sep;21(9):1251-1259. doi: 10.1038/s41593-018-0195-0. Epub 2018 Aug 6.


Hierarchy provides a unifying principle for the macroscale organization of anatomical and functional properties across primate cortex, yet microscale bases of specialization across human cortex are poorly understood. Anatomical hierarchy is conventionally informed by invasive tract-tracing measurements, creating a need for a principled proxy measure in humans. Moreover, cortex exhibits marked interareal variation in gene expression, yet organizing principles of cortical transcription remain unclear. We hypothesized that specialization of cortical microcircuitry involves hierarchical gradients of gene expression. We found that a noninvasive neuroimaging measure-MRI-derived T1-weighted/T2-weighted (T1w/T2w) mapping-reliably indexes anatomical hierarchy, and it captures the dominant pattern of transcriptional variation across human cortex. We found hierarchical gradients in expression profiles of genes related to microcircuit function, consistent with monkey microanatomy, and implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders. Our findings identify a hierarchical axis linking cortical transcription and anatomy, along which gradients of microscale properties may contribute to the macroscale specialization of cortical function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Transcriptome*