How neural stem cells contribute to neocortex development

Biochem Soc Trans. 2021 Nov 1;49(5):1997-2006. doi: 10.1042/BST20200923.


The mammalian neocortex is the seat of higher cognitive functions, such as thinking and language in human. A hallmark of the neocortex are the cortical neurons, which are generated from divisions of neural progenitor cells (NPCs) during development, and which constitute a key feature of the well-organized layered structure of the neocortex. Proper formation of neocortex structure requires an orchestrated cellular behavior of different cortical NPCs during development, especially during the process of cortical neurogenesis. Here, we review the great diversity of NPCs and their contribution to the development of the neocortex. First, we review the categorization of NPCs into different classes and types based on their cell biological features, and discuss recent advances in characterizing marker expression and cell polarity features in the different types of NPCs. Second, we review the different modes of cell divisions that NPCs undergo and discuss the importance of the balance between proliferation and differentiation of NPCs in neocortical development. Third, we review the different proliferative capacities among different NPC types and among the same type of NPC in different mammalian species. Dissecting the differences between NPC types and differences among mammalian species is beneficial to further understand the development and the evolutionary expansion of the neocortex and may open up new therapeutic avenues for neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: cell proliferation; evolution; neocortex development; neural progenitor cells; neurogenesis.