The mammalian brain is arguably the most complex organ in all biology. To understand its function, we need to first understand its parts (the cell types) and how they are created during embryogenesis. In a large-scale effort, we have now used single-cell RNA-seq to create an atlas of the developing and adolescent mouse nervous system, including the brain as well as sensory, sympathetic and enteric ganglia. We classify cell types and infer lineage relationships during development. I discuss past, present and future work on the road to a full molecular understanding of the cellular architecture of the mammalian nervous system; demonstrate successful discovery and functional characterization of previously unrecognized cell types; and report on our efforts to address the technological, computational and biological challenges of applying whole-brain single-cell RNA-seq towards a fuller understanding of how the brain is built.
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