Comparative transcriptomics reveals human-specific cortical features.
The cognitive abilities of humans are distinctive among primates, but their molecular and cellular substrates are poorly understood. We used comparative single-nucleus transcriptomics to analyze samples of the middle temporal gyrus (MTG) from adult humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, rhesus macaques, and common marmosets to understand human-specific features of the neocortex. Human, chimpanzee, and gorilla MTG showed highly similar cell-type composition and laminar organization as well as a large shift in proportions of deep-layer intratelencephalic-projecting neurons compared with macaque and marmoset MTG. Microglia, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes had more-divergent expression across species compared with neurons or oligodendrocyte precursor cells, and neuronal expression diverged more rapidly on the human lineage. Only a few hundred genes showed human-specific patterning, suggesting that relatively few cellular and molecular changes distinctively define adult human cortical structure.