A complete understanding of nervous system function cannot be achieved without the identification of its component cell types. In this Perspective, we explore a series of related issues surrounding cell identity and how revolutionary methods for labeling and probing specific neuronal types have clarified this question. Specifically, we ask the following questions: what is the purpose of such diversity, how is it generated, how is it maintained, and, ultimately, how can one unambiguously identity one cell type from anotherα We suggest that each cell type can be defined by a unique and conserved molecular ground state that determines its capabilities. We believe that gaining an understanding of these molecular barcodes will advance our ability to explore brain function, enhance our understanding of the biochemical basis of CNS disorders, and aid in the development of novel therapeutic strategies.
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