During development, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract arises from a primary tube composed of mesoderm and endoderm. The mesoderm gives rise to the digestive mesenchyme, which in turn differentiates into multiple tissues, namely the submucosa, the interstitial cells of Cajal and the smooth muscle cells (SMCs). Concomitant with these early patterning events, the primitive GI tract is colonized by vagal enteric neural crest-derived cells (vENCDCs), a population of cells that gives rise to the enteric nervous system, the intrinsic innervation of the GI tract. Reciprocal neuro-mesenchymal interactions are essential for the coordinated development of GI musculature. The aim of this study is to examine and compare the kinetics of mesenchymal cell differentiation into SMCs along the anterior-posterior axis to the pattern of vENCDCs migration using whole-mount in situ hybridization and paraffin section immunofluorescence analyses on chick embryonic GI tracts from E4-Stage 23 to E7-Stages 30-31. We confirmed that gastric and pre-umbilical intestine mesenchyme differentiation into SMCs occurs after vENCDCs colonization. However, we found that colonic and post-umbilical intestine mesenchyme differentiation occurs before vENCDCs colonization. These findings suggest that regional-specific mechanisms are involved in the mesenchyme differentiation into SMCs along the GI anterior-posterior axis.
Keywords: Chick embryo; Colon; Enteric nervous system; Smooth muscle; Stomach.