Cortical activity emerges in region-specific patterns during early brain development

Rodrigo Suárez, Tobias Bluett, Michael H. McCullough, Lilach Avitan, Dylan A. Black, Annalisa Paolino, Laura R. Fenlon, Geoffrey J. Goodhill, Linda J. Richards*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The development of precise neural circuits in the brain requires spontaneous patterns of neural activity prior to functional maturation. In the rodent cerebral cortex, patchwork and wave patterns of activity develop in somatosensory and visual regions, respectively, and are present at birth. However, whether such activity patterns occur in noneutherian mammals, as well as when and how they arise during development, remain open questions relevant for understanding brain formation in health and disease. Since the onset of patterned cortical activity is challenging to study prenatally in eutherians, here we offer an approach in a minimally invasive manner using marsupial dunnarts, whose cortex forms postnatally. We discovered similar patchwork and travelling waves in the dunnart somatosensory and visual cortices at stage 27 (equivalent to newborn mice) and examined earlier stages of development to determine the onset of these patterns and how they first emerge. We observed that these patterns of activity emerge in a region-specific and sequential manner, becoming evident as early as stage 24 in somatosensory and stage 25 in visual cortices (equivalent to embryonic day 16 and 17, respectively, in mice), as cortical layers establish and thalamic axons innervate the cortex. In addition to sculpting synaptic connections of existing circuits, evolutionarily conserved patterns of neural activity could therefore help regulate other early events in cortical development.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2208654120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - 30 May 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.


  • GCaMP6s
  • activity pattern
  • cortical development
  • marsupial
  • spontaneous activity


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