The neural crest arises at the border between the neural plate and the adjacent non-neural ectoderm. It has been suggested that both neural and non-neural ectoderm can contribute to the neural crest. Several studies have examined the molecular mechanisms that regulate neural crest induction in neuralized tissues or the neural plate border. Here, using the chick as a model system, we address the molecular mechanisms by which non-neural ectoderm generates neural crest. We report that in response to FGF the non-neural ectoderm can ectopically express several early neural crest markers (Pax7, Msx1, Dlx5, Sox9, FoxD3, Snail2, and Sox10). Importantly this response to FGF signaling can occur without inducing ectopic mesodermal tissues. Furthermore, the non-neural ectoderm responds to FGF by expressing the prospective neural marker Sox3, but it does not express definitive markers of neural or anterior neural (Sox2 and Otx2) tissues. These results suggest that the non-neural ectoderm can launch the neural crest program in the absence of mesoderm, without acquiring definitive neural character. Finally, we report that prior to the upregulation of these neural crest markers, the non-neural ectoderm upregulates both BMP and Wnt molecules in response to FGF. Our results provide the first effort to understand the molecular events leading to neural crest development via the non-neural ectoderm in amniotes and present a distinct response to FGF signaling.
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