Cell-type homologies and the origins of the neocortex
The six-layered neocortex is a uniquely mammalian structure with evolutionary origins that remain in dispute. One long-standing hypothesis, based on similarities in neuronal connectivity, proposes that homologs of the layer 4 input and layer 5 output neurons of neocortex are present in the avian forebrain, where they contribute to specific nuclei rather than to layers. We devised a molecular test of this hypothesis based on layer-specific gene expression that is shared across rodent and carnivore neocortex. Our findings establish that the layer 4 input and the layer 5 output cell types are conserved across the amniotes, but are organized into very different architectures, forming nuclei in birds, cortical areas in reptiles, and cortical layers in mammals.