Although the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is famous for its role in cancer metastasis, it also is a normal developmental event in which epithelial cells are converted into migratory mesenchymal cells. A prime example of EMT during development occurs when neural crest (NC) cells emigrate from the neural tube thus providing an excellent model to study the principles of EMT in a nonmalignant environment. NC cells start life as neuroepithelial cells intermixed with precursors of the central nervous system. After EMT, they delaminate and begin migrating, often to distant sites in the embryo. While proliferating and maintaining multipotency and cell survival the transitioning neural crest cells lose apicobasal polarity and the basement membrane is broken down. This review discusses how these events are coordinated and regulated, by series of events involving signaling factors, gene regulatory interactions, as well as epigenetic and post-transcriptional modifications. Even though the series of events involved in NC EMT are well known, the sequence in which these steps take place remains a subject of debate, raising the intriguing possibility that, rather than being a single event, neural crest EMT may involve multiple parallel mechanisms.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.