The cerebral cortex is the hallmark of the mammalian nervous system, and its large size and cellular diversity in humans support our most sophisticated cognitive abilities. Although the basic cellular organization of the cortex is conserved across mammals, cells have diversified during evolution. An increasingly integrated taxonomy of cell types, especially with the advent of single-cell transcriptomic data, has revealed an unprecedented variety of human cortical cell subtypes. Here, we broadly review the cellular composition and diversity of the mammalian brain, and how progenitor pools generate cell subtypes during development. We then discuss human cortical cells that are distinct from rodent cells, as well as the challenges and advantages of using model systems to study human cell types in health and disease.
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