Differential timing of a conserved transcriptional network underlies divergent cortical projection routes across mammalian brain evolution

Annalisa Paolino, Laura R. Fenlon, Peter Kozulin, Elizabeth Haines, Jonathan W.C. Lim, Linda J. Richards, Rodrigo Suárez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


A unique combination of transcription factor expression and projection neuron identity demarcates each layer of the cerebral cortex. During mouse and human cortical development, the transcription factor CTIP2 specifies neurons that project subcerebrally, while SATB2 specifies neuronal projections via the corpus callosum, a large axon tract connecting the two neocortical hemispheres that emerged exclusively in eutherian mammals. Marsupials comprise the sister taxon of eutherians but do not have a corpus callosum; their intercortical commissural neurons instead project via the anterior commissure, similar to egg-laying monotreme mammals. It remains unknown whether divergent transcriptional networks underlie these cortical wiring differences. Here, we combine birth-dating analysis, retrograde tracing, gene overexpression and knockdown, and axonal quantification to compare the functions of CTIP2 and SATB2 in neocortical development, between the eutherian mouse and the marsupial fat-tailed dunnart. We demonstrate a striking degree of structural and functional homology, whereby CTIP2 or SATB2 of either species is sufficient to promote a subcerebral or commissural fate, respectively. Remarkably, we reveal a substantial delay in the onset of developmental SATB2 expression in mice as compared to the equivalent stage in dunnarts, with premature SATB2 overexpression in mice to match that of dunnarts resulting in a marsupial-like projection fate via the anterior commissure. Our results suggest that small alterations in the timing of regulatory gene expression may underlie interspecies differences in neuronal projection fate specification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10554-10564
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 12 2020


  • Bcl11b/Ctip2
  • Corpus callosum
  • Cortical evolution
  • Evolutionary innovations
  • Heterochrony


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