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Neuropil is a fundamental form of tissue organization within brains. In neuropils, densely packed neurons synaptically interconnect into precise circuit architecture, yet the structural and developmental principles governing nanoscale precision in bundled neuropil assembly remain largely unknown. Here we use diffusion condensation, a coarse-graining clustering algorithm, to identify nested circuit structures within the C. elegans cerebral neuropil (called the nerve ring). We determine that the nerve ring neuropil is organized into four tightly bundled strata composed of related behavioral circuits. We demonstrate that the stratified architecture of the neuropil is a geometrical representation of the functional segregation of sensory information and motor outputs, with specific sensory organs and muscle quadrants mapping onto particular neuropil strata. We identify groups of neurons with unique morphologies that integrate information across strata and that create a sophisticated honeycomb-shaped scaffold that encases the strata within the nerve ring. We resolve the developmental sequence leading to stratified neuropil organization through the integration of lineaging and cell tracking algorithms with high resolution light-sheet microscopy, and reveal principles of cell position, migration and hierarchical outgrowth that guide neuropil organization. Our results uncover conserved design principles underlying nerve ring neuropil architecture and function, and a pioneer neuron-based, temporal progression of outgrowth that guides the hierarchical development of the layered neuropil. Our findings provide a blueprint for using structural and developmental approaches to systematically understand neuropil organization within brains.

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