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von Economo neurons (VENs) are bipolar, spindle-shaped neurons restricted to layer 5 of human frontoinsula and anterior cingulate cortex that appear to be selectively vulnerable to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, although little is known about other VEN cellular phenotypes. Single nucleus RNA-sequencing of frontoinsula layer 5 identified a transcriptomically-defined cell cluster that contained VENs, but also fork cells and a subset of pyramidal neurons. Cross-species alignment of this cell cluster with a well-annotated mouse classification shows strong homology to extratelencephalic (ET) excitatory neurons that project to subcerebral targets. This cluster also shows strong homology to a putative ET cluster in human temporal cortex, but with a strikingly specific regional signature. Together these results predict VENs are a regionally distinctive type of ET neuron, and we additionally describe the first patch clamp recordings of VENs from neurosurgically-resected tissue that show distinctive intrinsic membrane properties relative to neighboring pyramidal neurons.

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