The neural crest is a multipotent stem cell--like population that gives rise to a wide range of derivatives in vertebrate embryo including elements of the craniofacial skeleton and peripheral nervous system as well as melanocytes. The neural crest forms in a series of regulatory steps that include induction and specification of the prospective neural crest territory--neural plate border, specification of bona fide neural crest progenitors, and differentiation into diverse derivatives. These individual processes during neural crest ontogeny are controlled by regulatory circuits that can be assembled into a hierarchical gene regulatory network (GRN). Here we present an overview of the GRN that orchestrates the formation of cranial neural crest cells. Formulation of this network relies on information largely inferred from gene perturbation studies performed in several vertebrate model organisms. Our representation of the cranial neural crest GRN also includes information about direct regulatory interactions obtained from the cis-regulatory analyses performed to date, which increases the resolution of the architectural circuitry within the network.
stem cell; transcription factors; cell migration; cis-regulation
The neural crest is a highly migratory cell population, unique to vertebrates, that forms much of the craniofacial skeleton and peripheral nervous system. In exploring the cell biological basis underlying this behavior, we have identified an unconventional myosin, myosin-X (Myo10) that is required for neural crest migration. Myo10 is highly expressed in both premigratory and migrating cranial neural crest (CNC) cells in Xenopus embryos. Disrupting Myo10 expression using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides leads to impaired neural crest migration, but only a slight delay in induction. In vivo grafting experiments reveal that Myo10-depleted CNC cells migrate a shorter distance and fail to segregate into distinct migratory streams. Finally, in vitro cultures and cell dissociation-reaggregation assays suggest that Myo10 may be critical for production of cell protrusions and cell-cell adhesion. These results demonstrate an essential role for Myo10 in normal cranial neural crest migration and suggest a link to cell-cell interactions and formation of processes.
Myosin-X; cranial neural crest; migration; adhesion
Although the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is famous for its role in cancer metastasis, it also is a normal developmental event in which epithelial cells are converted into migratory mesenchymal cells. A prime example of EMT during development occurs when neural crest (NC) cells emigrate from the neural tube thus providing an excellent model to study the principles of EMT in a nonmalignant environment. NC cells start life as neuroepithelial cells intermixed with precursors of the central nervous system. After EMT, they delaminate and begin migrating, often to distant sites in the embryo. While proliferating and maintaining multipotency and cell survival the transitioning neural crest cells lose apicobasal polarity and the basement membrane is broken down. This review discusses how these events are coordinated and regulated, by series of events involving signaling factors, gene regulatory interactions, as well as epigenetic and post-transcriptional modifications. Even though the series of events involved in NC EMT are well known, the sequence in which these steps take place remains a subject of debate, raising the intriguing possibility that, rather than being a single event, neural crest EMT may involve multiple parallel mechanisms.
neural crest; EMT; apicobasal polarity; dorsal neural tube; Snail
Collapsin response mediator proteins (CRMPs) are cytosolic phosphoproteins that are functionally important during vertebrate development. We have generated a zebrafish genetrap line that produces fluorescently tagged Crmp1 protein, which can be dynamically tracked in living fish at subcellular resolution. The results show that Crmp1 is expressed in numerous sites in the developing nervous system. Early expression is apparent in the forebrain, epiphysis, optic tectum and the developing spinal cord. In the larval brain, Crmp1 is expressed in several distinct brain regions, such as the telencephalon, habenula and cerebellum. In addition, it is expressed in the spinal cord in a manner that persists in the larva. The results suggest that this Crmp1 protein trap line offers a powerful tool to track selected neuronal populations at high resolution.
Crmp1; zebrafish; nervous system; development
prdm1 is an important transcriptional regulator that plays diverse roles during development of a wide variety of vertebrate and invertebrate species. prdm1 is required for neural crest specification in zebrafish, but not in mouse embryos. The role of this gene in neural crest formation in other species has not been examined, and its regulation during embryonic development is poorly understood. Here, we investigate the expression pattern, function and the upstream regulatory inputs into prdm1 during lamprey neural crest development. prdm1 is strongly expressed in the lamprey neural plate border, suggesting a conserved ancestral role of this gene in the neural crest formation. We found that lamprey neural plate border expression of prdm1 is activated by Ap-2 and Msx, but is independent of Pax3/7 and Zic.
Cranial neural crest cells migrate into the periocular region and later contribute to various ocular tissues including the cornea, ciliary body and iris. After reaching the eye, they initially pause before migrating over the lens to form the cornea. Interestingly, removal of the lens leads to premature invasion and abnormal differentiation of the cornea. In exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying this effect, we find that semaphorin3A (Sema3A) is expressed in the lens placode and epithelium continuously throughout eye development. Interestingly, neuropilin-1 (Npn-1) is expressed by periocular neural crest but down-regulated, in a manner independent of the lens, by the subpopulation that migrates into the eye and gives rise to the cornea endothelium and stroma. In contrast, Npn-1 expressing neural crest remain in the periocular region and contribute to the anterior uvea and ocular blood vessels. Introduction of a peptide that inhibits Sema3A/Npn-1 signaling results in premature entry of neural crest cells over the lens that phenocopies lens ablation. Furthermore, Sema3A inhibits periocular neural crest migration in vitro. Taken together, our data reveal a novel and essential role of Sema3A/Npn-1 signaling in coordinating periocular neural crest migration that is vital for proper ocular development.
semaphorin3A; neuropilin-1; neural crest; cornea; lens
Neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) are a transient multipotent embryonic cell population that represents a defining characteristic of vertebrates. The neural crest (NC) gives rise to many derivatives including the neurons and glia of the sensory and autonomic ganglia of the peripheral nervous system, enteric neurons and glia, melanocytes, and the cartilaginous, bony and connective tissue of the craniofacial skeleton, cephalic neuroendocrine organs, and some heart vessels.
We present evidence that neural crest (NC) competence can be acquired very early when human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are selectively neuralized towards dorsal neuroepithelium in the absence of feeder cells in fully defined conditions. When hESC-derived neurospheres are plated on fibronectin, some cells emigrate onto the substrate. These early migratory Neural Crest Stem Cells (emNCSCs) uniformly upregulate Sox10 and vimentin, downregulate N-cadherin, and remodel F-actin, consistent with a transition from neuroepithelium to a mesenchymal NC cell. Over 13% of emNCSCs upregulate CD73, a marker of mesenchymal lineage characteristic of cephalic NC and connexin 43, found on early migratory NC cells. We demonstrated that emNCSCs give rise in vitro to all NC lineages, are multipotent on clonal level, and appropriately respond to developmental factors. We suggest that human emNCSC resemble cephalic NC described in model organisms. Ex vivo emNCSCs can differentiate into neurons in Ret.k- mouse embryonic gut tissue cultures and transplanted emNCSCs incorporate into NC-derived structures but not CNS tissues in chick embryos.
These findings will provide a framework for further studying early human NC development including the epithelial to mesenchymal transition during NC delamination.
Whereas neural crest cells are the source of the peripheral nervous system in the trunk of vertebrates, the “ectodermal placodes,” together with neural crest, form the peripheral nervous system of the head. Cranial ectodermal placodes are thickenings in the ectoderm that subsequently ingress or invaginate to make important contributions to cranial ganglia, including epibranchial and trigeminal ganglia, and sensory structures, the ear, nose, lens, and adenohypophysis. Recent studies have uncovered a number of molecular signals mediating induction and differentiation of placodal cells. Here, we described recent advances in understanding the tissue interactions and signals underlying induction and neurogenesis of placodes, with emphasis on the trigeminal and epibranchial. Important roles of Fibroblast Growth Factors, Platelet Derived Growth Factors, Sonic Hedgehog, TGFβ superfamily members, and Wnts are discussed.
placode induction; epibranchial; trigeminal; Shh; Wnt; TGF beta; platelet derived growth factor
The transcription factor spalt4 is a key early-response gene in otic placode induction. Here, we characterize the cis-regulatory regions of spalt4 responsible for activation of its expression in the developing otic placode and report the isolation of a novel core enhancer. Identification and mutational analysis of putative transcription factor binding sites reveal that Pea3, a downstream effector of FGF signaling, and Pax2 directly activate spalt4 during ear development. Morpholino-mediated knock-down of each factor reduces or eliminates reporter expression. In contrast, combined over-expression of Pea3 and Pax2 drives ectopic reporter expression, suggesting that they function synergistically. These studies expand the gene regulatory network underlying early otic development by identifying direct inputs that mediate spalt4 expression.
chick; Sall4; otic induction; inner ear; FGF8
In contrast to the classical assumption that neural crest cells are induced in chick as the neural folds elevate, recent data suggest that they are already specified during gastrulation. This prompted us to map the origin of the neural crest and dorsal neural tube in the early avian embryo. Using a combination of focal dye injections and time-lapse imaging, we find that neural crest and dorsal neural tube precursors are present in a broad, crescent-shaped region of the gastrula. Surprisingly, static fate maps together with dynamic confocal imaging reveal that the neural plate border is considerably broader and extends more caudally than expected. Interestingly, we find that the position of the presumptive neural crest broadly correlates with the BMP4 expression domain from gastrula to neurula stages. Some degree of rostrocaudal patterning, albeit incomplete, is already evident in the gastrula. Time-lapse imaging studies show that the neural crest and dorsal neural tube precursors undergo choreographed movements that follow a spatiotemporal progression and include convergence and extension, reorientation, cell intermixing, and motility deep within the embryo. Through these rearrangement and reorganization movements, the neural crest and dorsal neural tube precursors become regionally segregated, coming to occupy predictable rostrocaudal positions along the embryonic axis. This regionalization occurs progressively and appears to be complete in the neurula by stage 7 at levels rostral to Hensen's node.
Neural crest; dorsal neural tube; neural plate border; neural plate; cell movements; gastrulation; neurulation; chick; convergent extension; reorientation; deep motility; morphogenesis; fate map
Specification of neural crest progenitors begins during gastrulation at the neural plate border, long before migration or differentiation. Neural crest cell fate is acquired by progressive activation of discrete groups of transcription factors that appear to be highly conserved in vertebrates; however, comprehensive analysis of their expression has been lacking in chick, an important model system for neural crest development. To address this, we analyzed expression of ten transcription factors that are known specifiers of neural plate border and neural crest fate and compared them across developmental stages from gastrulation to neural crest migration. Surprisingly, we find that most neural crest specifiers are expressed during gastrulation in chick, concomitant with and in similar domains as neural plate border specifiers. This suggests that interactions between these molecules may occur much earlier than previously thought, an important consideration for interpretation of functional studies.
chick neural crest; neural plate border; gene regulatory network; NC-GRN
The events that convert adherent epithelial cells into individual migratory cells that can invade the extracellular matrix are known collectively as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Throughout evolution, the capacity of cells to switch between these two cellular states has been fundamental in the generation of complex body patterns. Here, we review the EMT events that build the embryo and further discuss two prototypical processes governed by EMT in amniotes: gastrulation and neural crest formation. Cells undergo EMT to migrate and colonize distant territories. Not surprisingly, this is also the mechanism used by cancer cells to disperse throughout the body.
The largest of the cranial ganglia, the trigeminal ganglion relays cutaneous sensations of the head to the central nervous system. Its sensory neurons have a dual origin from both ectodermal placodes and neural crest. Here, we show that birth of neurons derived from the chick ophthalmic trigeminal placode begins prior to their ingression (HH11), as early as HH8, and considerably earlier than previously suspected (HH16). Furthermore, cells exiting the cell cycle shortly thereafter express the ophthalmic trigeminal placode marker Pax3 (HH9). At HH11, these post-mitotic Pax3+ placode cells begin to express the pan neuronal marker, neurofilament, while still in the ectoderm. Analysis of the ectodermal origin and distribution of these early post-mitotic neurons reveals that the ophthalmic placode extends further rostrally than anticipated, contributing to neurons that reside in and make a significant contribution to the ophthalmic trigeminal nerve. These data redefine the timing and extent of neuron formation from the ophthalmic trigeminal placode.
trigeminal placode; BrdU; thymidine; birthdate; neuron
The neural crest, a transient population of migratory cells, forms the craniofacial skeleton and peripheral nervous system, among other derivatives in vertebrate embryos. The transcriptional repressor Snail2 is thought to be crucial for the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) that promotes neural crest delamination from the neural tube; however, little is known about its downstream targets. To this end, we depleted avian Snail2 in the premigratory neural crest using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides and examined effects on potential targets by quantitative PCR. Several dorsal neural tube genes were upregulated by alleviating Snail2 repression; moreover, the cell adhesion molecule cadherin6B was derepressed within 30 minutes of blocking Snail2 translation. Examination of the chick cadherin6B genomic sequence reveals that the regulatory region contains three pairs of clustered E boxes, representing putative Snail2 binding sites. Furthermore, in vivo and in vitro biochemical analyses demonstrate that Snail2 directly binds to these sites and regulates cadherin6B transcription. These results are the first to describe a direct target of Snail2 repression in vivo and in the context of the EMT that characterizes neural crest development.
Snail2 (Slug); cadherin6B; Neural crest; Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transitions; E boxes
Both neurons and glia of the PNS are derived from the neural crest. In this study, we have examined the potential function of lunatic fringe in neural tube and trunk neural crest development by gain-of-function analysis during early stages of nervous system formation. Normally lunatic fringe is expressed in three broad bands within the neural tube, and is most prominent in the dorsal neural tube containing neural crest precursors. Using retrovirally-mediated gene transfer, we find that excess lunatic fringe in the neural tube increases the numbers of neural crest cells in the migratory stream via an apparent increase in cell proliferation. In addition, lunatic fringe augments the numbers of neurons and upregulates Delta-1 expression. The results indicate that, by modulating Notch/Delta signaling, lunatic fringe not only increases cell division of neural crest precursors, but also increases the numbers of neurons in the trunk neural crest.
neural crest; lunatic fringe; notch; cell division
Cranial neural crest cells differentiate into diverse derivatives including neurons and glia of the cranial ganglia, and cartilage and bone of the facial skeleton. Here, we explore the function of a novel transcription factor of the spalt family that might be involved in early cell-lineage decisions of the avian neural crest. The chicken spalt4 gene (csal4) is expressed in the neural tube, migrating neural crest, branchial arches and, transiently, in the cranial ectoderm. Later, it is expressed in the mesectodermal, but not neuronal or glial, derivatives of midbrain and hindbrain neural crest. After over-expression by electroporation into the cranial neural tube and neural crest, we observed a marked redistribution of electroporated neural crest cells in the vicinity of the trigeminal ganglion. In control-electroporated embryos, numerous, labeled neural crest cells (∼80% of the population) entered the ganglion, many of which differentiated into neurons. By contrast, few (∼30% of the population) spalt-electroporated neural crest cells entered the trigeminal ganglion. Instead, they localized in the mesenchyme around the ganglionic periphery or continued further ventrally to the branchial arches. Interestingly, little or no expression of differentiation markers for neurons or other cell types was observed in spalt-electroporated neural crest cells.
Spalt; neural crest; branchial arches; trigeminal ganglia
Central to the story of vertebrate evolution is the origin of the vertebrate head, a problem difficult to approach using paleontology and comparative morphology due to a lack of unambiguous intermediate forms. Embryologically, much of the vertebrate head is derived from two ectodermal tissues, the neural crest and cranial placodes. Recent work in protochordates suggests the first chordates possessed migratory neural tube cells with some features of neural crest cells. However, it is unclear how and when these cells acquired the ability to form cellular cartilage, a cell type unique to vertebrates. It has been variously proposed that the neural crest acquired chondrogenic ability by recruiting proto-chondrogenic gene programs deployed in the neural tube, pharynx, and notochord. To test these hypotheses we examined the expression of 11 amphioxus orthologs of genes involved in neural crest chondrogenesis. Consistent with cellular cartilage as a vertebrate novelty, we find that no single amphioxus tissue co-expresses all or most of these genes. However, most are variously co-expressed in mesodermal derivatives. Our results suggest that neural crest-derived cartilage evolved by serial cooption of genes which functioned primitively in mesoderm.
Cranial placodes are regions of thickened ectoderm that give rise to sense organs and ganglia in the vertebrate head. Homologous structures are proposed to exist in urochordates, but have not been found in cephalochordates, suggesting the first chordates lacked placodes. SoxB genes are expressed in discrete subsets of vertebrate placodes. To investigate how placodes arose and diversified in the vertebrate lineage we isolated the complete set of SoxB genes from amphioxus and analyzed their expression in embryos and larvae. We find that while amphioxus possesses a single SoxB2 gene, it has three SoxB1 paralogs. Like vertebrate SoxB1 genes, one of these paralogs is expressed in non-neural ectoderm destined to give rise to sensory cells. When considered in the context of other amphioxus placode marker orthologs, amphioxus SoxB1 expression suggests a diversity of sensory cell types utilizing distinct placode-type gene programs was present in the first chordates. Our data supports a model for placode evolution and diversification whereby the full complement of vertebrate placodes evolved by serial recruitment of distinct sensory cell specification programs to anterior pre-placodal ectoderm.
Evolution; development; chordates; vertebrates; placodes; amphioxus
The Wnt signaling pathway is important in the formation of neural crest cells in many vertebrates, but the downstream targets of neural crest induction by Wnt are largely unknown. Here, we examined quantitative changes in gene expression regulated by Wnt-mediated neural crest induction using quantitative PCR (QPCR). Induction was recapitulated in vitro by adding soluble Wnt to intermediate neural plate tissue cultured in collagen, and induced versus control tissue were assayed using gene-specific primers at times corresponding to premigratory (18 and 24 h) or early (36 h) stages of crest migration. The results show that Wnt signaling up-regulates in a distinct temporal pattern the expression of several genes normally expressed in the dorsal neural tube (slug, Pax3, Msx1, FoxD3, cadherin 6B) at “premigratory” stages. While slug is maintained in early migrating crest cells, Pax3, FoxD3, Msx1 and cadherin 6B all are down-regulated by the start of migration. These results differ from the temporal profile of these genes in response to the addition of recombinant BMP4, where gene expression seems to be maintained. Interestingly, expression of rhoB is unchanged or even decreased in response to Wnt-mediated induction at all times examined, though it is up-regulated by BMP signals. The temporal QPCR profiles in our culture paradigm approximate in vivo expression patterns of these genes before neural crest migration, and are consistent with Wnt being an initial neural crest inducer with additional signals like BMP and other factors maintaining expression of these genes in vivo. Our results are the first to quantitatively describe changes in gene expression in response to a Wnt or BMP signal during transformation of a neural tube cell into a migratory neural crest cell.
Vertebrate neural crest cells are multipotent and differentiate into structures that include cartilage and the bones of the face, as well as much of the peripheral nervous system. Understanding how different model vertebrates utilize signaling pathways reiteratively during various stages of neural crest formation and differentiation lends insight into human disorders associated with the neural crest.
Neural crest precursors to the autonomic nervous system form different derivatives depending upon their axial level of origin; for example, vagal, but not trunk, neural crest cells form the enteric ganglia of the gut. Here, we show that Slit2 is expressed at the entrance of the gut, which is selectively invaded by vagal, but not trunk, neural crest. Accordingly, only trunk neural crest cells express Robo receptors. In vivo and in vitro experiments demonstrate that trunk, not vagal, crest cells avoid cells or cell membranes expressing Slit2, thereby contributing to the differential ability of neural crest populations to invade and innervate the gut. Conversely, exposure to soluble Slit2 significantly increases the distance traversed by trunk neural crest cells. These results suggest that Slit2 can act bifunctionally, both repulsing and stimulating the motility of trunk neural crest cells.
Slit2; neural crest; vagal; chemorepellent; gut
We have utilized the carbocyanine dye, DiI, to label suspensions of dissociated ciliary ganglion cells removed from 6 to 12 day old quail embryos. Some of the cells were injected into the trunk somites of 2.5 - 3 day old chick embryos along pathways where neural crest cells migrate to form sensory and sympathetic ganglia, aortic plexuses and the adrenal medulla; the remainder of the cells were cultured to check their viability and the persistence of the DiI label. Embryos were incubated for 1 – 8 days post-injection, fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde/0.25% glutaraldehyde and processed for cryostat sectioning. DiI-labelled cells were readily identifiable in
culture and in sections of embryos at all stages examined. Several cell types were identified, based on their morphology and soma size. These included cells with large cell bodies and bright DiI-labelling that appeared to be neurons and smaller, more weakly labelled cells that appeared non-neuronal. The latter presumably had divided several times, accounting for their reduced levels of dye. Many of the DiI-labelled cells were found in and around neural crest-derived sympathetic ganglia, aortic plexuses and adrenomedullary cords, but were rarely observed
in dorsal root ganglia. The aldehyde fixative (Faglu mixture) used in this study reacts with catecholamines to form a bright reaction product in adrenergic cells including those in the sympathetic ganglia and the adrenal medulla. The catecholamine biproduct and the DiI in the
same cell can easily be viewed with different fluorescent filter sets. A variable number of the DiI-labelled cells in these adrenergic sites contained catecholamines. Cells derived from younger 6 day ciliary ganglion dissociates exhibited detectable catecholamine neurotransmitters
earlier and more frequently than those derived from 8 day embryos. The presence of cells exhibiting both bright DiI and catecholamine fluorescence is consistent with previous indications that post-mitotic ciliary ganglion neurons can undergo phenotypic conversion from cholinergic to adrenergic when transplanted to the trunk environment.