Single-cell transcriptome profiling of the human developing spinal cord reveals a conserved genetic programme with human-specific features

Development. 2021 Aug 1;148(15):dev199711. doi: 10.1242/dev.199711. Epub 2021 Aug 5.


The spinal cord receives input from peripheral sensory neurons and controls motor output by regulating muscle innervating motor neurons. These functions are carried out by neural circuits comprising molecularly distinct neuronal subtypes generated in a characteristic spatiotemporal arrangement from progenitors in the embryonic neural tube. To gain insight into the diversity and complexity of cells in the developing human neural tube, we used single-cell mRNA sequencing to profile cervical and thoracic regions in four human embryos of Carnegie stages (CS) CS12, CS14, CS17 and CS19 from gestational weeks 4-7. Analysis of progenitor and neuronal populations from the neural tube and dorsal root ganglia identified dozens of distinct cell types and facilitated the reconstruction of the differentiation pathways of specific neuronal subtypes. Comparison with mouse revealed overall similarity of mammalian neural tube development while highlighting some human-specific features. These data provide a catalogue of gene expression and cell type identity in the human neural tube that will support future studies of sensory and motor control systems. The data can be explored at

Keywords: Developmental patterning; Human; Neuronal subtype identity; Single-cell transcriptome; Spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / physiology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / physiology
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Neural Tube / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Thorax / physiology
  • Transcriptome / genetics*
  • Transcriptome / physiology*