Role of the extracellular matrix during neural crest cell migration

Mech Dev. 2000 Jul;95(1-2):3-21. doi: 10.1016/s0925-4773(00)00365-8.


Once specified to become neural crest (NC), cells occupying the dorsal portion of the neural tube disrupt their cadherin-mediated cell-cell contacts, acquire motile properties, and embark upon an extensive migration through the embryo to reach their ultimate phenotype-specific sites. The understanding of how this movement is regulated is still rather fragmentary due to the complexity of the cellular and molecular interactions involved. An additional intricate aspect of the regulation of NC cell movement is that the timings, modes and patterns of NC cell migration are intimately associated with the concomitant phenotypic diversification that cells undergo during their migratory phase and the fact that these changes modulate the way that moving cells interact with their microenvironment. To date, two interplaying mechanisms appear central for the guidance of the migrating NC cells through the embryo: one involves secreted signalling molecules acting through their cognate protein kinase/phosphatase-type receptors and the other is contributed by the multivalent interactions of the cells with their surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). The latter ones seem fundamental in light of the central morphogenetic role played by the intracellular signals transduced through the cytoskeleton upon integrin ligation, and the convergence of these signalling cascades with those triggered by cadherins, survival/growth factor receptors, gap junctional communications, and stretch-activated calcium channels. The elucidation of the importance of the ECM during NC cell movement is presently favoured by the augmenting knowledge about the macromolecular structure of the specific ECM assembled during NC development and the functional assaying of its individual constituents via molecular and genetic manipulations. Collectively, these data propose that NC cell migration may be governed by time- and space-dependent alterations in the expression of inhibitory ECM components; the relative ratio of permissive versus non-permissive ECM components; and the supramolecular assembly of permissive ECM components. Six multidomain ECM constituents encoded by a corresponding number of genes appear to date the master ECM molecules in the control of NC cell movement. These are fibronectin, laminin isoforms 1 and 8, aggrecan, and PG-M/version isoforms V0 and V1. This review revisits a number of original observations in amphibian and avian embryos and discusses them in light of more recent experimental data to explain how the interaction of moving NC cells with these ECM components may be coordinated to guide cells toward their final sites during the process of organogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement*
  • Chick Embryo
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Extracellular Matrix*
  • Neural Crest* / cytology
  • Neural Crest* / embryology


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins