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Development. 2007 Sep;134(17):3065-75. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Cranial neural crest cells regulate head muscle patterning and differentiation during vertebrate embryogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Biological Regulation, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


In the vertebrate head, mesoderm cells fuse together to form a myofiber, which is attached to specific cranial neural crest (CNC)-derived skeletal elements in a highly coordinated manner. Although it has long been recognized that CNC plays a role in the formation of the head musculature, the precise molecular underpinnings of this process remain elusive. In the present study we explored the nature of the crosstalk between CNC and mesoderm cells during head muscle development, employing three models for genetic perturbations of CNC development in mice, as well as experimental ablation of CNC in chick embryos. We demonstrate that although early myogenesis is CNC-independent, the migration, patterning and differentiation of muscle precursors are regulated by CNC. In the absence of CNC cells, accumulated myoblasts are kept in a proliferative state, presumably because of an increase of Fgf8 in adjacent tissues, which leads to abnormalities in both differentiation and subsequent myofiber organization in the head. These results have uncovered a surprising degree of complexity and multiple distinct roles for CNC in the patterning and differentiation of muscles during craniofacial development. We suggest that CNC cells control craniofacial development by regulating positional interactions with mesoderm-derived muscle progenitors that together shape the cranial musculoskeletal architecture in vertebrate embryos.

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