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Cell Adh Migr. 2010 Oct-Dec;4(4):567-85.

Regional differences in neural crest morphogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis, CA, USA.


Neural crest cells are pluripotent cells that emerge from the neural epithelium, migrate extensively, and differentiate into numerous derivatives, including neurons, glial cells, pigment cells and connective tissue. Major questions concerning their morphogenesis include: 1) what establishes the pathways of migration and 2) what controls the final destination and differentiation of various neural crest subpopulations. These questions will be addressed in this review. Neural crest cells from the trunk level have been explored most extensively. Studies show that melanoblasts are specified shortly after they depart from the neural tube, and this specification directs their migration into the dorsolateral pathway. We also consider other reports that present strong evidence for ventrally migrating neural crest cells being similarly fate restricted. Cranial neural crest cells have been less analyzed in this regard but the preponderance of evidence indicates that either the cranial neural crest cells are not fate-restricted, or are extremely plastic in their developmental capability and that specification does not control pathfinding. Thus, the guidance mechanisms that control cranial neural crest migration and their behavior vary significantly from the trunk. The vagal neural crest arises at the axial level between the cranial and trunk neural crest and represents a transitional cell population between the head and trunk neural crest. We summarize new data to support this claim. In particular, we show that: 1) the vagal-level neural crest cells exhibit modest developmental bias; 2) there are differences in the migratory behavior between the anterior and the posterior vagal neural crest cells reminiscent of the cranial and the trunk neural crest, respectively; 3) the vagal neural crest cells take the dorsolateral pathway to the pharyngeal arches and the heart, but the ventral pathway to the peripheral nervous system and the gut. However, these pathways are not rigidly specified because of prior fate restriction. Understanding the molecular, cellular and behavioral differences between these three populations of neural crest cells will be of enormous assistance when trying to understand the evolution of the neck.

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