Only mammals evolved a neocortex, which integrates sensory-motor and cognitive functions. Significant diversifications in the cellular composition and connectivity of the neocortex occurred between the two main therian groups: marsupials and eutherians. However, the developmental mechanisms underlying these diversifications are largely unknown. Here, we compared the neocortical transcriptomes of Sminthopsis crassicaudata, a mouse-sized marsupial, with those of eutherian mice at two developmentally equivalent time points corresponding to deeper and upper layer neuron generation. Enrichment analyses revealed more mature gene networks in marsupials at the early stage, which reverted at the later stage, suggesting a more precocious but protracted neuronal maturation program relative to birth timing of cortical layers. We ranked genes expressed in different species and identified important differences in gene expression rankings between species. For example, genes known to be enriched in upper-layer cortical projection neuron subtypes, such as Cux1, Lhx2 and Satb2, likely relate to corpus callosum emergence in eutherians. These results show molecular heterochronies of neocortical development in Theria, and highlight changes in gene expression and cell type composition that may underlie neocortical evolution and diversification.

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