Interneuron Types as Attractors and Controllers

Gord Fishell, Adam Kepecs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cortical interneurons display striking differences in shape, physiology, and other attributes, challenging us to appropriately classify them. We previously suggested that interneuron types should be defined by their role in cortical processing. Here, we revisit the question of how to codify their diversity based upon their division of labor and function as controllers of cortical information flow. We suggest that developmental trajectories provide a guide for appreciating interneuron diversity and argue that subtype identity is generated using a configurational (rather than combinatorial) code of transcription factors that produce attractor states in the underlying gene regulatory network. We present our updated three-stage model for interneuron specification: An initial cardinal step, allocating interneurons into a few major classes, followed by definitive refinement, creating subclasses upon settling within the cortex, and lastly, state determination, reflecting the incorporation of interneurons into functional circuit ensembles. We close by discussing findings indicating that major interneuron classes are both evolutionarily ancient and conserved. We propose that the complexity of cortical circuits is generated by phylogenetically old interneuron types, complemented by an evolutionary increase in principal neuron diversity. This suggests that a natural neurobiological definition of interneuron types might be derived from a match between their developmental origin and computational function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalAnnual Review of Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jul 8 2020


  • attractor network
  • cardinal specification
  • configurational code
  • gene regulatory network
  • interneuron development
  • transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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