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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 2;106(22):8947-52. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903780106. Epub 2009 May 15.

High frequency of cephalic neural crest cells shows coexistence of neurogenic, melanogenic, and osteogenic differentiation capacities.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Unité Propre de Recherche 2197 Laboratoire Développement, Evolution et Plasticité du Système Nerveux, Institut de Neurobiologie Alfred Fessard, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


The neural crest (NC) is a vertebrate innovation that distinguishes vertebrates from other chordates and was critical for the development and evolution of a "New Head and Brain." In early vertebrates, the NC was the source of dermal armor of fossil jawless fish. In extant vertebrates, including mammals, the NC forms the peripheral nervous system, melanocytes, and the cartilage and bone of the face. Here, we show that in avian embryos, a large majority of cephalic NC cells (CNCCs) have the ability to differentiate into cell types as diverse as neurons, melanocytes, osteocytes, and chondrocytes. Moreover, we find that the morphogen Sonic hedgehog (Shh) acts on CNCCs to increase endochondral osteogenesis while having no effect on osteoblasts prone to membranous ossification. We have developed culture conditions that demonstrate that "neural-mesenchymal" differentiation abilities are present in more than 90% of CNCCs. A highly multipotent progenitor (able to yield neurons, glia, melanocytes, myofibroblasts, chondrocytes, and osteocytes) comprises 7-13% of the clonogenic cells in the absence and presence of Shh, respectively. This progenitor is a good candidate for a cephalic NC stem cell.

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