During early stages of cerebral cortical development, progenitor cells in the ventricular zone are multipotent, producing neurons of many layers over successive cell divisions. The laminar fate of their progeny depends on environmental cues to which the cells respond prior to mitosis. By the end of neurogenesis, however, progenitors are lineally committed to producing upper-layer neurons. Here we assess the laminar fate potential of progenitors at a middle stage of cortical development. The progenitors of layer 4 neurons were first transplanted into older brains in which layer 2/3 was being generated. The transplanted neurons adopted a laminar fate appropriate for the new environment (layer 2/3), revealing that layer 4 progenitors are multipotent. Mid-stage progenitors were then transplanted into a younger environment, in which layer 6 neurons were being generated. The transplanted neurons bypassed layer 6, revealing that layer 4 progenitors have a restricted fate potential and are incompetent to respond to environmental cues that trigger layer 6 production. Instead, the transplanted cells migrated to layer 4, the position typical of their origin, and also to layer 5, a position appropriate for neither the host nor the donor environment. Because layer 5 neurogenesis is complete by the stage that progenitors were removed for transplantation, restrictions in laminar fate potential must lag behind the final production of a cortical layer. These results suggest that a combination of intrinsic and environmental cues controls the competence of cortical progenitor cells to produce neurons of different layers.

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