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Mech Dev. 2000 Jul;95(1-2):77-87.

The developmental potentials of the caudalmost part of the neural crest are restricted to melanocytes and glia.

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  • 1Institut d'Embryologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire du CNRS et du Collège de France, 49 bis, Avenue de la belle Gabrielle, 94736 Cedex, Nogent-Sur-Marne, France.


The avian spinal cord is characterized by an absence of motor nerves and sensory nerves and ganglia at its caudalmost part. Since peripheral sensory neurons derive from neural crest cells, three basic mechanisms could account for this feature: (i) the caudalmost neural tube does not generate any neural crest cells; (ii) neural crest cells originating from the caudal part of the neural tube cannot give rise to dorsal root ganglia or (iii) the caudal environment is not permissive for the formation of dorsal root ganglia. To solve this problem, we have first studied the pattern of expression of ventral (HNF3beta) and dorsal (slug) marker genes in the caudal region of the neural tube; in a second approach, we have recorded the emergence of neural crest cells using the HNK1 monoclonal antibody; and finally, we have analyzed the developmental potentials of neural crest cells arising from the caudalmost part of the neural tube in avian embryo in in vitro culture and by means of heterotopic transplantations in vivo. We show here that neural crest cells arising from the neural tube located at the level of somites 47-53 can differentiate both in vitro and in vivo into melanocytes and Schwann cells but not into neurons. Furthermore, the neural tube located caudally to the last pair of somites (i.e. the 53rd pair) does not give rise to neural crest cells in any of the situations tested. The specific anatomical aspect of the avian spinal cord can thus be accounted for by limited developmental potentials of neural crest cells arising from the most caudal part of the neural tube.

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