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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2008 Apr 12;363(1495):1349-62. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2252.

Molecular analysis of neural crest migration.

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Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


The neural crest (NC) cells have been called the 'explorers of the embryos' because they migrate all over the embryo where they differentiate into a variety of diverse kinds of cells. In this work, we analyse the role of different molecules controlling the migration of NC cells. First, we describe the strong similarity between the process of NC migration and metastasis in tumour cells. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition process that both kinds of cells undergo is controlled by the same molecular machinery, including cadherins, connexins, Snail and Twist genes and matrix metalloproteases. Second, we analysed the molecular signals that control the patterned migration of the cephalic and trunk NC cells. Most of the factors described so far, such as Eph/ephrins, semaphorins/neuropilins and Slit/Robo, are negative signals that prohibit the migration of NC cells into target areas of the embryo. Finally, we analyse how the direction of migration is controlled by regulation of cell polarity and how the planar cell polarity or non-canonical Wnt signalling is involved in this process.

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