Redefining the head-trunk interface for the neural crest

Dev Biol. 2004 May 1;269(1):70-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.01.013.


The head-trunk interface lies at the occipito-cervical boundary, which corresponds to the somite 5/6 level. Previous studies have demonstrated that neural crest cells also behave differently either side of this boundary and that this may be due to intrinsic differences between cranial and trunk crest. However, it is also possible that some of the observed differences between cranial and trunk crest are assigned by environmental cues. We have therefore scrutinised the behaviour of the neural crest cells generated either side of the occipito-cervical boundary in chick and, interestingly, find that both behave in a truncal fashion by traversing the anterior half of their adjacent somites. Furthermore, although not previously described, we find that transient DRGs form opposite somites 4 and 5. Crest cells produced anterior of the somite 3/4 boundary avoid the somites and behave in a non-truncal fashion; these cells populate the pharyngeal arches, and thus contribute to the developing head. We have further shown, via somite transplantations, that differential behaviour of the posterior versus anterior occipital crest is assigned by the somites. If somites 1 to 3 are replaced by trunk somites, then the anterior occipital crest will behave in a truncal fashion by invading the somites. Correspondingly, if these anterior occipital somites are transplanted in place of trunk somites, they perturb the migration of trunk crest. Thus, for the neural crest, the head-trunk interface does not lie at the occipito-cervical boundary, but rather lies at the somite 3/4 level and is defined by the somites. The fact that this boundary lies at the somite 3/4 level in chick is significant as it reflects the more ancient posterior occipital boundary; in fish, only the first three somites contribute to the occipital bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • Ganglia, Spinal / embryology
  • Head / embryology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Neural Crest / embryology*
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • Thorax / embryology*
  • Thorax / metabolism


  • Homeodomain Proteins