Neural crest cells are multipotent progenitors, capable of producing diverse cell types upon differentiation. Recent studies have identified significant heterogeneity in both the fates produced and genes expressed by different premigratory crest cells. While these cells may be specified toward particular fates prior to migration, transplant studies show that some may still be capable of respecification at this time. Here we summarize evidence that extracellular signals in the local environment may act to specify premigratory crest and thus generate diversity in the population. Three main classes of signals-Wnts, BMP2/BMP4 and TGFbeta1,2,3-have been shown to directly influence the production of particular neural crest cell fates, and all are expressed near the premigratory crest. This system may therefore provide a good model for integration of multiple signaling pathways during embryonic cell fate specification.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.