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Development. 2004 May;131(9):1979-91. Epub 2004 Mar 31.

Graded potential of neural crest to form cornea, sensory neurons and cartilage along the rostrocaudal axis.

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  • 1California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Neural crest cells arising from different rostrocaudal axial levels form different sets of derivatives as diverse as ganglia, cartilage and cornea. These variations may be due to intrinsic properties of the cell populations, different environmental factors encountered during migration or some combination thereof. We test the relative roles of intrinsic versus extrinsic factors by challenging the developmental potential of cardiac and trunk neural crest cells via transplantation into an ectopic midbrain environment. We then assess long-term survival and differentiation into diverse derivatives, including cornea, trigeminal ganglion and branchial arch cartilage. Despite their ability to migrate to the periocular region, neither cardiac nor trunk neural crest contribute appropriately to the cornea, with cardiac crest cells often forming ectopic masses on the corneal surface. Similarly, the potential of trunk and cardiac neural crest to form somatosensory neurons in the trigeminal ganglion was significantly reduced compared with control midbrain grafts. Cardiac neural crest exhibited a reduced capacity to form cartilage, contributing only nominally to Meckle's cartilage, whereas trunk neural crest formed no cartilage after transplantation, even when grafted directly into the first branchial arch. These results suggest that neural crest cells along the rostrocaudal axis display a graded loss in developmental potential to form somatosensory neurons and cartilage even after transplantation to a permissive environment. Hox gene expression was transiently maintained in the cardiac neural tube and neural crest at 12 hours post-transplantation to the midbrain, but was subsequently downregulated. This suggests that long-term differences in Hox gene expression cannot account for rostrocaudal differences in developmental potential of neural crest populations in this case.

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