Neural crest cells are vertebrate-specific multipotent cells that contribute to a variety of tissues including the peripheral nervous system, melanocytes, and craniofacial bones and cartilage. Abnormal development of the neural crest is associated with several human maladies including cleft/lip palate, aggressive cancers such as melanoma and neuroblastoma, and rare syndromes, like Waardenburg syndrome, a complex disorder involving hearing loss and pigment defects. We previously identified the transcription factor Pax7 as an early marker, and required component for neural crest development in chick embryos. In mammals, Pax7 is also thought to play a role in neural crest development, yet the precise contribution of Pax7 progenitors to the neural crest lineage has not been determined.
Here we use Cre/loxP technology in double transgenic mice to fate map the Pax7 lineage in neural crest derivates. We find that Pax7 descendants contribute to multiple tissues including the cranial, cardiac and trunk neural crest, which in the cranial cartilage form a distinct regional pattern. The Pax7 lineage, like the Pax3 lineage, is additionally detected in some non-neural crest tissues, including a subset of the epithelial cells in specific organs.
These results demonstrate a previously unappreciated widespread distribution of Pax7 descendants within and beyond the neural crest. They shed light regarding the regionally distinct phenotypes observed in Pax3 and Pax7 mutants, and provide a unique perspective into the potential roles of Pax7 during disease and development.