A positive correlation between elevated maternal homocysteine (Hcys) and an increased risk of neural tube, craniofacial, and cardiac defects is well known. Studies suggest Hcys perturbs neural crest (NC) development and may involve N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors (Rosenquist et al., 1999). However, there is no direct evidence that Hcys alters NC cell behavior. Here, we evaluated the effect of Hcys on cardiac NC cell migratory behavior in vitro. Neural tube segments from chick embryos treated in ovo with or without Hcys were placed in culture and the migratory behavior of emigrating NC cells was monitored. Hcys significantly increased in vitro NC cell motility at all embryonic stages examined. NC cell surface area and perimeter were also increased. However, the relative distance NC cells migrated from their original starting point only increased in NC cells treated in ovo at stage 6 or at the time neural tube segments were cultured. Cysteine had no effect. NMDA mimicked Hcys' effect on NC motility and migration distance but had no effect on cell area or perimeter. The noncompetitive inhibitor of NMDA receptors, MK801+, significantly inhibited NC cell motility, reduced migration distance, and also blocked the effects of NMDA and Hcys on NC motility and migratory distance in vitro. A monoclonal antibody directed against the NMDA receptor immunostained NC cells in vitro and, in western blots, bound a single protein with the appropriate molecular weight for the NMDA receptor in NC cell lysates. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that a Hcys-sensitive NMDA-like receptor is expressed by early emigrating NC cells or their precursors, which is important in mediating their migratory behavior. Perturbation of this receptor may be related to some of the teratogenic effects observed with elevated Hcys.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.