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Dev Biol. 2020 Feb 19. pii: S0012-1606(20)30061-0. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2020.02.010. [Epub ahead of print]

Visualizing mesoderm and neural crest cell dynamics during chick head morphogenesis.

Author information

Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO, 64110, USA.
University of Oxford, Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology, Mathematical Institute, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6GG, UK.
School of Mathematics, 270A Vincent Hall, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA.
Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO, 64110, USA; Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City, KS, 66160, USA. Electronic address:


Vertebrate head morphogenesis involves carefully-orchestrated tissue growth and cell movements of the mesoderm and neural crest to form the distinct craniofacial pattern. To better understand structural birth defects, it is important that we characterize the dynamics of these processes and learn how they rely on each other. Here we examine this question during chick head morphogenesis using time-lapse imaging, computational modeling, and experiments. We find that head mesodermal cells in culture move in random directions as individuals and move faster in the presence of neural crest cells. In vivo, mesodermal cells migrate in a directed manner and maintain neighbor relationships; neural crest cells travel through the mesoderm at a faster speed. The mesoderm grows with a non-uniform spatio-temporal profile determined by BrdU labeling during the period of faster and more-directed neural crest collective migration through this domain. We use computer simulations to probe the robustness of neural crest stream formation by varying the spatio-temporal growth profile of the mesoderm. We follow this with experimental manipulations that either stop mesoderm growth or prevent neural crest migration and observe changes in the non-manipulated cell population, implying a dynamic feedback between tissue growth and neural crest cell signaling to confer robustness to the system. Overall, we present a novel descriptive analysis of mesoderm and neural crest cell dynamics that reveals the coordination and co-dependence of these two cell populations during head morphogenesis.


Avian; Computer modeling; Mesoderm; Neural crest; Time-lapse; Tissue growth

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of competing interest No competing interests declared.

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