Single-cell RNA sequencing has generated catalogs of transcriptionally defined neuronal subtypes of the brain. However, the cellular processes that contribute to neuronal subtype specification and transcriptional heterogeneity remain unclear. By comparing the gene expression profiles of single layer 6 corticothalamic neurons in somatosensory cortex, we show that transcriptional subtypes primarily reflect axonal projection pattern, laminar position within the cortex, and neuronal activity state. Pseudotemporal ordering of 1,023 cellular responses to sensory manipulation demonstrates that changes in expression of activity-induced genes both reinforced cell-type identity and contributed to increased transcriptional heterogeneity within each cell type. This is due to cell-type biased choices of transcriptional states following manipulation of neuronal activity. These results reveal that axonal projection pattern, laminar position, and activity state define significant axes of variation that contribute both to the transcriptional identity of individual neurons and to the transcriptional heterogeneity within each neuronal subtype. Chevée et al. find that sources of transcriptional heterogeneity defining cortical projection neurons include axonal projection pattern, laminar position, and activity state. Altering activity state through sensory manipulation increased cell-to-cell variation within cell types and enhanced distinctions between cell types.
Chevée, M., Robertson, J. D. J., Cannon, G. H., Brown, S. P., & Goff, L. A. (2018). Variation in Activity State, Axonal Projection, and Position Define the Transcriptional Identity of Individual Neocortical Projection Neurons. Cell Reports, 22(2), 441–455. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2017.12.046