Molecular, spatial and projection diversity of neurons in primary motor cortex revealed by in situ single-cell transcriptomics

Meng Zhang, Stephen W. Eichhorn, Brian Zingg, Zizhen Yao, Hongkui Zeng, Hongwei Dong, Xiaowei Zhuang
bioRxiv doi:10.1101/2020.06.04.105700 (2020)

A mammalian brain is comprised of numerous cell types organized in an intricate manner to form functional neural circuits. Single-cell RNA sequencing provides a powerful approach to identify cell types based on their gene expression profiles and has revealed many distinct cell populations in the brain1-3. Single-cell epigenomic profiling4,5 further provides information on gene-regulatory signatures of different cell types. Understanding how different cell types contribute to brain function, however, requires knowledge of their spatial organization and connectivity, which is not preserved in sequencing-based methods that involve cell dissociation3,6. Here, we used an in situ single-cell transcriptome-imaging method, multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization (MERFISH)7, to generate a molecularly defined and spatially resolved cell atlas of the mouse primary motor cortex (MOp). We profiled ∼300,000 cells in the MOp, identified 95 neuronal and non-neuronal cell clusters, and revealed a complex spatial map in which not only excitatory neuronal clusters but also most inhibitory neuronal clusters adopted layered organizations. Notably, intratelencephalic (IT) cells, the largest branch of neurons in the MOp, formed a continuous spectrum of cells with gradual changes in both gene expression profiles and cortical depth positions in a highly correlated manner. Furthermore, we integrated MERFISH with retrograde tracing to probe the projection targets for different MOp neuronal cell types and found that projections of MOp neurons to other cortical regions formed a many-to-many network with each target region receiving input preferentially from a different composition of IT clusters. Overall, our results provide a high-resolution spatial and projection map of molecularly defined cell types in the MOp. We anticipate that the imaging platform described here can be broadly applied to create high-resolution cell atlases of a wide range of systems.