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Dev Biol. 2010 Mar 1;339(1):114-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.12.022. Epub 2009 Dec 28.

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) regulates cranial neural crest migration in vivo.

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Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 1000 E. 50th St., Kansas City, MO 64110, USA.


The neural crest is an excellent model to study embryonic cell migration, since cell behaviors can be studied in vivo with advanced optical imaging and molecular intervention. What is unclear is how molecular signals direct neural crest cell (NCC) migration through multiple microenvironments and into specific targets. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the invasion of cranial NCCs, specifically the rhombomere 4 (r4) migratory stream into branchial arch 2 (ba2), is due to chemoattraction through neuropilin-1-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) interactions. We found that the spatio-temporal expression pattern of VEGF in the ectoderm correlated with the NCC migratory front. RT-PCR analysis of the r4 migratory stream showed that ba2 tissue expressed VEGF and r4 NCCs expressed VEGF receptor 2. When soluble VEGF receptor 1 (sVEGFR1) was injected distal to the r4 migratory front, to bind up endogenous VEGF, NCCs failed to completely invade ba2. Time-lapse imaging revealed that cranial NCCs were attracted to ba2 tissue or VEGF sources in vitro. VEGF-soaked beads or VEGF-expressing cells placed adjacent to the r4 migratory stream caused NCCs to divert from stereotypical pathways and move towards an ectopic VEGF source. Our results suggest a model in which NCC entry and invasion of ba2 is dependent on chemoattractive signaling through neuropilin-1-VEGF interactions.

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