Transcriptome profiling reveals expression signatures of cranial neural crest cells arising from different axial levels

BMC Dev Biol. 2017 Apr 13;17(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s12861-017-0147-z.


Background: Cranial neural crest cells (NCCs) are a unique embryonic cell type which give rise to a diverse array of derivatives extending from neurons and glia through to bone and cartilage. Depending on their point of origin along the antero-posterior axis cranial NCCs are rapidly sorted into distinct migratory streams that give rise to axial specific structures. These migratory streams mirror the underlying segmentation of the brain with NCCs exiting the diencephalon and midbrain following distinct paths compared to those exiting the hindbrain rhombomeres (r). The genetic landscape of cranial NCCs arising at different axial levels remains unknown.

Results: Here we have used RNA sequencing to uncover the transcriptional profiles of mouse cranial NCCs arising at different axial levels. Whole transcriptome analysis identified over 120 transcripts differentially expressed between NCCs arising anterior to r3 (referred to as r1-r2 migratory stream for simplicity) and the r4 migratory stream. Eight of the genes differentially expressed between these populations were validated by RT-PCR with 2 being further validated by in situ hybridisation. We also explored the expression of the Neuropilins (Nrp1 and Nrp2) and their co-receptors and show that the A-type Plexins are differentially expressed in different cranial NCC streams.

Conclusions: Our analyses identify a large number of genes differentially regulated between cranial NCCs arising at different axial levels. This data provides a comprehensive description of the genetic landscape driving diversity of distinct cranial NCC streams and provides novel insight into the regulatory networks controlling the formation of specific skeletal elements and the mechanisms promoting migration along different paths.

Keywords: Cranial neural crest; Fate; Neural crest; Neuropilin; RNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Diencephalon / cytology
  • Diencephalon / growth & development
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / growth & development
  • Mice
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / growth & development*
  • Neuropilin-1 / genetics
  • Neuropilin-2 / genetics
  • Rhombencephalon / cytology
  • Rhombencephalon / growth & development
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neuropilin-2
  • Neuropilin-1