We have used a retroviral vector that codes for the bacterial enzyme beta-galactosidase to study cell lineage in the rat cerebral cortex. This vector has been used to label progenitor cells in the cerebral cortices of rat embryos during the period of neurogenesis. When these embryos are allowed to develop to adulthood, the clones of cells derived from the marked progenitor cells can be identified histochemically. In this way, we can ask what are the lineage relationships between different neural cell types. From these studies, we conclude that there are two distinct types of progenitor cells in the developing cortex. One generates only grey matter astrocytes, whereas the second gives rise to neurones - both pyramidal and nonpyramidal - and to another class of cells that we have tentatively identified as glial cells of the white matter. We have also been able to address the question of how neurones are dispersed in the cortex during histogenesis. It had been previously hypothesized that clonally related neurones migrated radially to form columns in the mature cortex. However, we find that clones of neurones do not form radial columns; rather, they tend to occupy the same or neighbouring cortical laminae and to be spread over several hundreds of micrometers of cortex in the horizontal dimension. This spread occurs in both mediolateral and rostrocaudal directions.

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