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Single-cell RNA-seq analysis of retinal development identifies NFI factors as regulating mitotic exit and late-born cell specification

Precise temporal control of gene expression in neuronal progenitors is necessary for correct regulation of neurogenesis and cell fate specification. However, the extensive cellular heterogeneity of the developing CNS has posed a major obstacle to identifying the gene regulatory networks that control these processes. To address this, we used single cell RNA-sequencing to profile ten developmental stages encompassing the full course of retinal neurogenesis. This allowed us to comprehensively characterize changes in gene expression that occur during initiation of neurogenesis, changes in developmental competence, and specification and differentiation of each of the major retinal cell types. These data identify transitions in gene expression between early and late stage retinal progenitors, as well as a classification of neurogenic progenitors. We identify here the NFI family of transcription factors (Nfia, Nfib, and Nfix) as genes with enriched expression within late RPCs, and show they are regulators of bipolar interneuron and Müller glia specification and the control of proliferative quiescence.