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Development. 2002 Jun;129(12):2785-96.

In ovo transplantation of enteric nervous system precursors from vagal to sacral neural crest results in extensive hindgut colonisation.

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  • 1Neural Development Unit, Institute of Child Health, University College London, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK. a.burns@ich.ucl.ac.uk


The enteric nervous system (ENS) is derived from vagal and sacral neural crest cells (NCC). Within the embryonic avian gut, vagal NCC migrate in a rostrocaudal direction to form the majority of neurons and glia along the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract, whereas sacral NCC migrate in an opposing caudorostral direction, initially forming the nerve of Remak, and contribute a smaller number of ENS cells primarily to the distal hindgut. In this study, we have investigated the ability of vagal NCC, transplanted to the sacral region of the neuraxis, to colonise the chick hindgut and form the ENS in an experimentally generated hypoganglionic hindgut in ovo model. Results showed that when the vagal NC was transplanted into the sacral region of the neuraxis, vagal-derived ENS precursors immediately migrated away from the neural tube along characteristic pathways, with numerous cells colonising the gut mesenchyme by embryonic day (E) 4. By E7, the colorectum was extensively colonised by transplanted vagal NCC and the migration front had advanced caudorostrally to the level of the umbilicus. By E10, the stage at which sacral NCC begin to colonise the hindgut in large numbers, myenteric and submucosal plexuses in the hindgut almost entirely composed of transplanted vagal NCC, while the migration front had progressed into the pre-umbilical intestine, midway between the stomach and umbilicus. Immunohistochemical staining with the pan-neuronal marker, ANNA-1, revealed that the transplanted vagal NCC differentiated into enteric neurons, and whole-mount staining with NADPH-diaphorase showed that myenteric and submucosal ganglia formed interconnecting plexuses, similar to control animals. Furthermore, using an anti-RET antibody, widespread immunostaining was observed throughout the ENS, within a subpopulation of sacral NC-derived ENS precursors, and in the majority of transplanted vagal-to-sacral NCC. Our results demonstrate that: (1) a cell autonomous difference exists between the migration/signalling mechanisms used by sacral and vagal NCC, as transplanted vagal cells migrated along pathways normally followed by sacral cells, but did so in much larger numbers, earlier in development; (2) vagal NCC transplanted into the sacral neuraxis extensively colonised the hindgut, migrated in a caudorostral direction, differentiated into neuronal phenotypes, and formed enteric plexuses; (3) RET immunostaining occurred in vagal crest-derived ENS cells, the nerve of Remak and a subpopulation of sacral NCC within hindgut enteric ganglia.

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