Blueprint for the cerebral cortex

With billions of cells and billions of connections between them, the human cortex presents a challenging complexity. It also boasts specializations not found in other species, and raises fundamental questions about brain evolution. Understanding the molecular mechanisms driving cortical development and function promises to help explain what makes us human.

Unlocking the details of these processes is complicated by the rarity of access to developing and adult human brain tissue to study. Two recent papers use precious samples to describe molecular features of neurons in the human cerebral cortex. One study is an installment from the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative – Cell Census Network (BICCN) collaboration, which endeavors to catalog the diverse cell types in human, non-human primate, and mouse brain. The new study surveys the glutamatergic excitatory neurons found in the upper layers of cortex obtained from humans undergoing brain surgery (Berg et al 2021). The second study focuses on post-mortem samples from fetal prefrontal cortex, which is critical in coordinating cognitive and emotional behaviors, and prominently implicated in a broad spectrum of psychiatric illnesses (Shibata et al 2021). These two studies and the perspectives of our Editorial Board give us exciting views on the continuing rapid development of high-resolution maps of these uniquely human brain regions.

-Ron McKay, PhD, Chief Editor
Lieber Institute for Brain Development

-Venkata S. Mattay, MD
Managing Editor

-Michele Solis, PhD
Science Writer

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Editorial Board

Fred ‘Rusty’ Gage, PhD
President, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Daniel Geschwind, MD, PhD
Professor, UCLA School of Medicine

Elizabeth Grove, PhD
Professor, University of Chicago

Jürgen Knoblich, PhD
Interim Scientific Director, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Arnold Kriegstein, MD
Professor, UCSF

Pat Levitt, PhD
Professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Mu-Ming Poo, PhD
Director, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences

John Rubenstein, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF

Nenad Sestan, MD, PhD
Professor, Yale University

Flora Vaccarino, MD
Professor, Yale University

Chris Walsh, MD, PhD
Chief, Division of Genetics & Genomics, Boston Children’s Hospital

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