A Spacetime Odyssey of Neural Progenitors to Generate Neuronal Diversity

Mengmeng Ge, Amirhossein Sheikhshahrokh, Xiang Shi, Yuhong Zhang, Zhiheng Xu, Qingfeng Wu

Neuroscience Bulletin


To understand how the nervous system develops from a small pool of progenitors during early embryonic development, it is fundamentally important to identify the diversity of neuronal subtypes, decode the origin of neuronal diversity and uncover the principles governing neuronal specification across different regions. Recent single-cell analyses have systematically identified neuronal diversity at unprecedented scale and speed, leaving the deconstruction of spatiotemporal mechanisms for generating neuronal diversity an imperative and paramount challenge. In this review, we highlight three distinct strategies deployed by neural progenitors to produce diverse neuronal subtypes, including predetermined, stochastic and cascade diversifying models, and elaborate how these strategies are implemented in distinct regions such as neocortex, spinal cord, retina and hypothalamus. Importantly, the identity of neural progenitors is defined by their spatial position and temporal patterning factors, and each type of progenitor cells gives rise to distinguishable cohorts of neuronal subtypes. Microenvironmental cues, spontaneous activity and connectional pattern further reshape and diversify the fate of unspecialized neurons in particular regions. The illumination of how neuronal diversity is generated will pave the way for producing specific brain organoids to model human disease and desired neuronal subtypes for cell therapy, as well as understanding the organization of functional neural circuits and evolution of nervous system.