The migration of autonomic precursor cells in the embryo

Auton Neurosci. 2009 Nov 17;151(1):3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2009.08.013. Epub 2009 Sep 23.


The neural crest is an excellent model system to study cell fate and cell guidance signaling. Neural crest cells emerge from a common multipotent subpopulation and follow stereotypical migratory pathways to contribute to many diverse peripheral structures throughout the vertebrate embryo. The neural tube and diverse embryonic microenvironments from which the neural crest originate and migrate through are important sources of signals, yet it is still unclear how a common pool of neural crest stem and progenitor cells diversify and become distributed along specific stereotypical migratory paths. In the post-otic hindbrain and trunk, the neural crest emerge and contribute to the autonomic nervous system, and failure of proper cell navigation and differentiation often leads to congenital disorders that include dysautonomias, Hirschprung's disease, and neuroblastoma cancer. Recent exciting studies of neural crest cell behaviors have revealed the interplay of several molecular signaling pathways that guide and shape autonomic precursor cells to and into proper target structures, suggesting further work may help to better understand autonomic nervous system assembly, derived from a convergence of time-lapse imaging and molecular analyses. In this mini-review, we summarize recent fluorescent cell labeling strategies and cell behavior analyses that elucidate the role of molecular signals on the migration of autonomic precursor cells. We highlight advances in our understanding of the autonomic precursor cell behaviors and fate determination studied within the embryonic microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / embryology*
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Movement
  • Drosophila melanogaster / embryology
  • Enteric Nervous System / cytology
  • Enteric Nervous System / embryology
  • Fluorescent Dyes / analysis
  • Models, Neurological
  • Multipotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Somites / cytology
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Vertebrates / embryology


  • Fluorescent Dyes