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The molecular basis of neural crest axial identity

Rothstein, Megan, Bhattacharya, Debadrita, Simoes-Costa, Marcos
Developmental biology 2018 v.444 pp. S170
cartilage, cell movement, embryogenesis, gene regulatory networks, melanocytes, neural crest, peripheral nerves, phylogeny, smooth muscle, vertebrates
The neural crest is a migratory cell population that contributes to multiple tissues and organs during vertebrate embryonic development. It is remarkable in its ability to differentiate into an array of different cell types, including melanocytes, cartilage, bone, smooth muscle, and peripheral nerves. Although neural crest cells are formed along the entire anterior-posterior axis of the developing embryo, they can be divided into distinct subpopulations based on their axial level of origin. These groups of cells, which include the cranial, vagal, trunk, and sacral neural crest, display varied migratory patterns and contribute to multiple derivatives. While these subpopulations have been shown to be mostly plastic and to differentiate according to environmental cues, differences in their intrinsic potentials have also been identified. For instance, the cranial neural crest is unique in its ability to give rise to cartilage and bone. Here, we examine the molecular features that underlie such developmental restrictions and discuss the hypothesis that distinct gene regulatory networks operate in these subpopulations. We also consider how reconstructing the phylogeny of the trunk and cranial neural crest cells impacts our understanding of vertebrate evolution.