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Cerebral Cortical Development and Evolution

Proliferating neurons in the dorsal pallium Dr Fernando Garcia Moreno
Proliferating neurons in the dorsal pallium

Our laboratory is situated in the Le Gros Clark Building, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at University of Oxford.  We are interested in the interactions between the environment and the unfolding genetic program of brain development, with special attention to the cerebral cortex.

Our objectives

  1. Understand the development of early cortical circuits (with special attention to thalamocortical projections and subplate neurons).
  2. Study how progenitor/stem cells produce cerebral cortical neurons during normal embryonic development and in the adult after injury.
  3. To elucidate the normal migration and differentiation program of cortical neurons and understand their disorders.
  4. To gain insight into the evolution of these developmental mechanisms.

A functional nervous system relies on precise spatial and temporal orchestration of gene expression, billions of proper electrical and chemical connections between millions of cells, and an exact balance of cell types that navigate and integrate over great distances.  As connections form between nerve cells and their electrical properties emerge, the brain begins to process information and mediate behaviours even during embryonic life.  Some circuitry is built into the nervous system during embryogenesis; however, interactions with the world continuously update and adapt the brain's functional architecture throughout life.  The mechanisms by which these plastic changes occur appear to be a continuation of the process that sculpts the brain during development.  To understand the brain and its devastating diseases, we need to reveal the mechanisms that produce it and the ways in which it can constantly change.

Building the brain is like a house of cards. The early connections provide the foundation of the adult structure, and disruption of these may be the source of many developmental flaws. Cerebral cortical developmental disorders (including schizophrenia, autism and dyslexia) and perinatal injuries involve cortical neurons with early connectivity, and the major hindrance of progress in understanding the early neural circuits during cortical development and disease was a lack of basic knowledge on neurogenesis, cell migration and reliable markers for specific cell populations. Due to the advance of powerful approaches in gene expression analysis and the utility of models with reporter gene expressions in specific cortical cell types our knowledge of the early cortical circuits is rapidly increasing. This field benefited from recent developments in mouse genetics in generating models with subtype specific gene expression patterns, powerful cell dissection and separation methods combined with microarray and sequencing analysis.  We wish to understand neuronal integration into the early intracortical and extracortical circuitry during normal and altered cortical development.

Selected publications

History of Neuroscience

I am very interested in the history of neuroscience at Oxford with special attention to Thomas Willis, Sir Charles Sherrington and Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark. Together with Dr Richard Boyd in 2010 I established the “Oxford History of Science Seminar Series” and together with Dr Damion Young, Professor Pietro Corsi (University of Oxford) and Professor Richard Brown (University of Dalhousie, Halifax) we created a historic repository for the University of Oxford Medical Division.

Join the Molnár Lab

We are a highly collaborative and enthusiastic group. We have several joint projects and studentships especially with the Butt, Szele and Begbie Labs within the Le Gros Clark Building and other laboratories in our Department and around the World. Enquiries from motivated and talented students and post-docs to discuss available research projects and funding possibilities are always welcome. Get in touch

In the media

The latest investigations on the development of the dorsal forebrain in chick and mouse embryos showed a delay in the neurogenic properties of a subset of mammalian but not avian progenitors and could be responsible for the evolutionary origin of the corpus callosum. Link to paper and to HFSP news release.

Memorandum of Understending has been signed between Shanghai Jiao Tong University and University of Oxford to strengthen collaborations in the field of Developmental Genetics and Biology.

OxfordSparks public understanding of movement control video using original histological preparations prepared by Sir Charles Sherrington

Interviews on the "Evolution of the Human Neocortex: How Unique Are We?" The Company of Biologists workshop Wiston House, Steyning, West Sussex, UK, September 2013.

Unexpected origin of the subplate neurons (DPAG News,,, Informaria Digital,

Oxford - McGill Mini Symposium (McGill's Brain Institute)

CLoNe new tool to track cell lineages (HFSP, theNODE, DPAG news, Oxford Neuroscience News)

Subplate cells express susceptibility genes for schizophrenia and autism (Time, Science Daily, Oxford Neuroscience, GenEng News, ENN, Scicasts, MedicalXpress, myScience, sify news)

Mapping gene expression in layers of mouse brain (SFARI, Oxford University News, Daily Mail)

Comparison of mouse and chick brain transcriptomes (HFSPDPAG NEWS)

New Theories on the Origin of Cerebral Cortical Convolutions (HFSP)

History of Medical Sciences Website (Sociedad Española de Neurociencia)

Exhibition: 'Revelaing the Brain' (The Oxford Times, Oxford Neuroscience, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, Oxford Neuroscience)

The Oxford/HBI Summer Student Exchange scheme (Oxford Neuroscience)

The first Fung Scholars in the Molnár lab (DPAG NEWS)


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