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Development. 2002 Jan;129(2):433-42.

Signalling between the hindbrain and paraxial tissues dictates neural crest migration pathways.

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Division of Developmental Neurobiology, National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK.


Cranial neural crest cells are a pluripotent population of cells derived from the neural tube that migrate into the branchial arches to generate the distinctive bone, connective tissue and peripheral nervous system components characteristic of the vertebrate head. The highly conserved segmental organisation of the vertebrate hindbrain plays an important role in patterning the pathways of neural crest cell migration and in generating the distinct or separate streams of crest cells that form unique structures in each arch. We have used focal injections of DiI into the developing mouse hindbrain in combination with in vitro whole embryo culture to map the patterns of cranial neural crest cell migration into the developing branchial arches. Our results show that mouse hindbrain-derived neural crest cells migrate in three segregated streams adjacent to the even-numbered rhombomeres into the branchial arches, and each stream contains contributions of cells from three rhombomeres in a pattern very similar to that observed in the chick embryo. There are clear neural crest-free zones adjacent to r3 and r5. Furthermore, using grafting and lineage-tracing techniques in cultured mouse embryos to investigate the differential ability of odd and even-numbered segments to generate neural crest cells, we find that odd and even segments have an intrinsic ability to produce equivalent numbers of neural crest cells. This implies that inter-rhombomeric signalling is less important than combinatorial interactions between the hindbrain and the adjacent arch environment in specific regions, in the process of restricting the generation and migration of neural crest cells. This creates crest-free territories and suggests that tissue interactions established during development and patterning of the branchial arches may set up signals that the neural plate is primed to interpret during the progressive events leading to the delamination and migration of neural crest cells. Using interspecies grafting experiments between mouse and chick embryos, we have shown that this process forms part of a conserved mechanism for generating neural crest-free zones and contributing to the separation of migrating crest populations with distinct Hox expression during vertebrate head development.

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