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Development. 2002 Aug;129(15):3621-32.

Ephrin-B ligands play a dual role in the control of neural crest cell migration.

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Section of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California-Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Little is known about the mechanisms that direct neural crest cells to the appropriate migratory pathways. Our aim was to determine how neural crest cells that are specified as neurons and glial cells only migrate ventrally and are prevented from migrating dorsolaterally into the skin, whereas neural crest cells specified as melanoblasts are directed into the dorsolateral pathway. Eph receptors and their ephrin ligands have been shown to be essential for migration of many cell types during embryonic development. Consequently, we asked if ephrin-B proteins participate in the guidance of melanoblasts along the dorsolateral pathway, and prevent early migratory neural crest cells from invading the dorsolateral pathway. Using Fc fusion proteins, we detected the expression of ephrin-B ligands in the dorsolateral pathway at the stage when neural crest cells are migrating ventrally. Furthermore, we show that ephrins block dorsolateral migration of early-migrating neural crest cells because when we disrupt the Eph-ephrin interactions by addition of soluble ephrin-B ligand to trunk explants, early neural crest cells migrate inappropriately into the dorsolateral pathway. Surprisingly, we discovered the ephrin-B ligands continue to be expressed along the dorsolateral pathway during melanoblast migration. RT-PCR analysis, in situ hybridisation, and cell surface-labelling of neural crest cell cultures demonstrate that melanoblasts express several EphB receptors. In adhesion assays, engagement of ephrin-B ligands to EphB receptors increases melanoblast attachment to fibronectin. Cell migration assays demonstrate that ephrin-B ligands stimulate the migration of melanoblasts. Furthermore, when Eph signalling is disrupted in vivo, melanoblasts are prevented from migrating dorsolaterally, suggesting ephrin-B ligands promote the dorsolateral migration of melanoblasts. Thus, transmembrane ephrins act as bifunctional guidance cues: they first repel early migratory neural crest cells from the dorsolateral path, and then later stimulate the migration of melanoblasts into this pathway. The mechanisms by which ephrins regulate repulsion or attraction in neural crest cells are unknown. One possibility is that the cellular response involves signalling to the actin cytoskeleton, potentially involving the activation of Cdc42/Rac family of GTPases. In support of this hypothesis, we show that adhesion of early migratory cells to an ephrin-B-derivatized substratum results in cell rounding and disruption of the actin cytoskeleton, whereas plating of melanoblasts on an ephrin-B substratum induces the formation of microspikes filled with F-actin.

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