After induction and specification in the ectoderm, at the border of the neural plate, the neural crest (NC) population leaves its original territory through a delamination process. Soon afterwards, the NC cells migrate throughout the embryo and colonize a myriad of tissues and organs where they settle and differentiate. The delamination involves a partial or complete epithelium-to-mesenchyme transition (EMT) regulated by a complex network of transcription factors including several proto-oncogenes. Studying the relationship between these genes at the time of emigration, and their individual or collective impact on cell behavior, provides valuable information about their role in EMT in other contexts such as cancer metastasis. During migration, NC cells are exposed to large number of positive and negative regulators that control where they go by generating permissive and restricted areas and by modulating their motility and directionality. In addition, as most NC cells migrate collectively, cell-cell interactions play a crucial role in polarizing the cells and interpreting external cues. Cell cooperation eventually generates an overall polarity to the population, leading to directional collective cell migration. This review will summarize our current knowledge on delamination, EMT and migration of NC cells using key examples from chicken, Xenopus, zebrafish and mouse embryos. Given the similarities between neural crest migration and cancer invasion, these cells may represent a useful model for understanding the mechanisms of metastasis.
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