The thalamus, a crucial regulator of cortical functions, is composed of many nuclei arranged in a spatially complex pattern. Thalamic neurogenesis occurs over a short period during mammalian embryonic development. These features have hampered the effort to understand how regionalization, cell divisions, and fate specification are coordinated and produce a wide array of nuclei that exhibit distinct patterns of gene expression and functions. Here, we performed in vivo clonal analysis to track the divisions of individual progenitor cells and spatial allocation of their progeny in the developing mouse thalamus. Quantitative analysis of clone compositions revealed evidence for sequential generation of distinct sets of thalamic nuclei based on the location of the founder progenitor cells. Furthermore, we identified intermediate progenitor cells that produced neurons populating more than one thalamic nuclei, indicating a prolonged specification of nuclear fate. Our study reveals an organizational principle that governs the spatial and temporal progression of cell divisions and fate specification and provides a framework for studying cellular heterogeneity and connectivity in the mammalian thalamus.
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© 2018 Wong et al.