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Development. 2009 Sep;136(18):3195-203. doi: 10.1242/dev.031302.

Age-dependent changes in the gut environment restrict the invasion of the hindgut by enteric neural progenitors.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI 53705, USA.


The enteric nervous system (ENS) develops from neural crest cells (NCCs) that enter the foregut and hindgut to become enteric neural-crest-derived cells (ENCCs). When these cells of neural crest origin fail to colonize the terminal hindgut, this aganglionic region becomes non-functional and results in a condition in humans known as Hirschsprung's disease (HSCR). One of the genes associated with HSCR is endothelin receptor type B (Ednrb). To study the development of colonic aganglionosis we have utilized a novel knockout mouse (Ednrb(flex3/flex3)), in which the expression of a null Ednrb allele and YFP is confined to NCCs. We have identified two primary cellular defects related to defective EDNRB signaling. First, ENCC advance in Ednrb(flex3/flex3) embryos is delayed shortly after NCCs enter the gut. Apart from this early delay, Ednrb(flex3/flex3) ENCCs advance normally until reaching the proximal colon. Second, as Ednrb(flex3/flex3) ENCCs reach the colon at E14.5, they display migratory defects, including altered trajectories and reduced speed, that are not dependent on proliferation or differentiation. We constructed grafts to test the ability of donor ENCCs to invade a recipient piece of aganglionic colon. Our results indicate that the age of the recipient, and not the age or genotype of donor ENCCs, determines whether the colon is invaded. We identify changes in laminin expression that are associated with the failure of ENCCs to invade recipient tissue. Together, our data suggest that a defect in pre-enteric Ednrb(flex3/flex3) NCCs results in delayed colonic arrival, which, due to environment changes in the colon, is sufficient to cause aganglionosis.

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