Creative Destruction: A Basic Computational Model of Cortical Layer Formation

Cereb Cortex. 2021 Jun 10;31(7):3237-3253. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhab003.


One of the most characteristic properties of many vertebrate neural systems is the layered organization of different cell types. This cytoarchitecture exists in the cortex, the retina, the hippocampus, and many other parts of the central nervous system. The developmental mechanisms of neural layer formation have been subject to substantial experimental efforts. Here, we provide a general computational model for cortical layer formation in 3D physical space. We show that this multiscale, agent-based model, comprising two distinct stages of apoptosis, can account for the wide range of neuronal numbers encountered in different cortical areas and species. Our results demonstrate the phenotypic richness of a basic state diagram structure. Importantly, apoptosis allows for changing the thickness of one layer without automatically affecting other layers. Therefore, apoptosis increases the flexibility for evolutionary change in layer architecture. Notably, slightly changed gene regulatory dynamics recapitulate the characteristic properties observed in neurodevelopmental diseases. Overall, we propose a novel computational model using gene-type rules, exhibiting many characteristics of normal and pathological cortical development.

Keywords: agent-based model; apoptosis; cell migration; cell proliferation; cortical layer formation; neural development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Macaca
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Temporal Lobe / cytology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*