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Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2004 Apr;16 Suppl 1:3-7.

Enteric neural crest-derived cells and neural stem cells: biology and therapeutic potential.

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Neural Development Unit, Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, UK.


The enteric nervous system arises from two regions of the neural crest; the vagal neural crest which gives rise to the vast majority of enteric neurones throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and the sacral neural crest which contributes a smaller number of cells that are mainly distributed within the hindgut. The migration of vagal neural crest cells into, and along the gut is promoted by GDNF, which is expressed by the gut mesenchyme and is the ligand for the Ret/GFRalpha1 signalling complex present on migrating vagal-derived crest cells. Sacral neural crest cells enter the gut after it has been colonized by vagal neural crest cells, but the molecular control of sacral neural crest cell development has yet to be elucidated. Under the influence of both intrinsic and extrinsic cues, neural crest cells differentiate into glia and different types of enteric neurones at different developmental stages. Recently, the potential for neural stem cells to form an enteric nervous system has been examined, with the ultimate aim of using neural stem cells as a therapeutic strategy for some gut disorders where enteric neurones are reduced or absent.

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