Single-cell transcriptomic analysis of the adult mouse spinal cord reveals molecular diversity of autonomic and skeletal motor neurons

The spinal cord is a fascinating structure that is responsible for coordinating movement in vertebrates. Spinal motor neurons control muscle activity by transmitting signals from the spinal cord to diverse peripheral targets. In this study, we profiled 43,890 single-nucleus transcriptomes from the adult mouse spinal cord using fluorescence-activated nuclei sorting to enrich for motor neuron nuclei. We identified 16 sympathetic motor neuron clusters, which are distinguishable by spatial localization and expression of neuromodulatory signaling genes. We found surprising skeletal motor neuron heterogeneity in the adult spinal cord, including transcriptional differences that correlate with electrophysiologically and spatially distinct motor pools. We also provide evidence for a novel transcriptional subpopulation of skeletal motor neuron (γ*). Collectively, these data provide a single-cell transcriptional atlas ( for investigating the organizing molecular logic of adult motor neuron diversity, as well as the cellular and molecular basis of motor neuron function in health and disease.

Read the full paper at Nature Neuroscience

Single nucleus RNA-sequencing defines unexpected diversity of cholinergic neuron types in the adult mouse spinal cord

In vertebrates, motor control relies on cholinergic neurons in the spinal cord that have been extensively studied over the past hundred years, yet the full heterogeneity of these neurons and their different functional roles in the adult remain to be defined. Here, we developed a targeted single nuclear RNA sequencing approach and used it to identify an array of cholinergic interneurons, visceral and skeletal motor neurons. Our data expose markers for distinguishing these classes of cholinergic neurons and their extremely rich diversity. Specifically, visceral motor neurons, which provide autonomic control, could be divided into more than a dozen transcriptomic classes with anatomically restricted localization along the spinal cord. The complexity of the skeletal motor neurons was also reflected in our analysis with alpha, beta, and gamma subtypes clearly distinguished. In combination, our data provide a comprehensive transcriptomic description of this important population of neurons that control many aspects of physiology and movement and encompass the cellular substrates for debilitating degenerative disorders.

Read the paper at Nature Communications

This work was carried out by the Gitler Lab, in collaboration with the Kaltschmidt and Greenleaf Labs.

Blum et al. 2021--read the paper here.

A parallel study was conducted by the Le Pichon Lab

Alkaslasi et al. 2021--read the preprint here