Brain Development Insights

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The origin of two neuron types reveals how some cellular diversity emerges in the brain
Inside our brains lives a myriad of cell types that support complex human thought — from our ability to make memories and decisions to our capacity to smell, taste, move, and communicate. Scientists do not yet fully understand how this critical cellular diversity arises as the brain grows and develops.

Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, working with colleagues at the Flatiron Institute, have shown how two key cell types in the brain's cortex arise from a single progenitor in mice, as well as genetic and molecular factors that allow the two populations of interneurons to develop different identities.

The work was led by Kathryn Allaway and Gord Fishell of HMS and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad, Orly Wapinsky, formerly at the Broad, and Mariano Gabitto and Richard Bonneau of the Flatiron Institute.

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The findings, published Sept. 22 in Nature, could provide a model for studying the emergence of cellular diversity in the brain. Because many neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders affect different cell types, including interneurons, differently, the authors say their work could also help researchers better understand how these disorders come about. The methods developed by the team could also help scientists study the effect of disease-related genetic mutations on various cell types in the brain.

"Part of the future of neuroscience will be to create tools that we can use to correct the activity of very specific cell types," said Fishell, professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and an institute member at the Broad. "An important step towards those tools is what we've done in this study: getting more detailed knowledge of the individual cell types."

Inhibitory interneurons

Interneurons are neurons located exclusively in the central nervous system and are more diverse in shape, connectivity, and function than any other type of cell in the…
Allessandra Dicorato, Broad Communications
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