The mature cerebral cortex contains a staggering variety of projection neuron subtypes, and a number of complementary studies have recently begun to define their identity and embryonic origin. Among the different types of cortical projection neurons, subcerebral projection neurons, including corticospinal motor neurons (CSMN), have been extensively studied and some of the molecular controls over their differentiation have been elucidated. Here, we first provide an overview of the approaches used to purify and molecularly profile neuronal populations of the neocortex and, more broadly, of the central nervous system (CNS). Next, we specifically review recent progress in understanding the genes that define and control development of the CSMN population. Finally, we briefly discuss the relevance of this work to current questions regarding the mechanisms of the establishment of projection neuron subtype identity in the neocortex and its implications to direct the differentiation of CSMN for therapeutic benefit.
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