Single-cell atlas of early human brain development highlights heterogeneity of human neuroepithelial cells and early radial glia

Nat Neurosci. 2021 Apr;24(4):584-594. doi: 10.1038/s41593-020-00794-1. Epub 2021 Mar 15.


The human cortex comprises diverse cell types that emerge from an initially uniform neuroepithelium that gives rise to radial glia, the neural stem cells of the cortex. To characterize the earliest stages of human brain development, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing across regions of the developing human brain, including the telencephalon, diencephalon, midbrain, hindbrain and cerebellum. We identify nine progenitor populations physically proximal to the telencephalon, suggesting more heterogeneity than previously described, including a highly prevalent mesenchymal-like population that disappears once neurogenesis begins. Comparison of human and mouse progenitor populations at corresponding stages identifies two progenitor clusters that are enriched in the early stages of human cortical development. We also find that organoid systems display low fidelity to neuroepithelial and early radial glia cell types, but improve as neurogenesis progresses. Overall, we provide a comprehensive molecular and spatial atlas of early stages of human brain and cortical development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / embryology*
  • Ependymoglial Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neuroepithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Single-Cell Analysis