Cardiac Neural Crest Cells: Their Rhombomeric Specification, Migration, and Association with Heart and Great Vessel Anomalies

Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2021 Apr;41(3):403-429. doi: 10.1007/s10571-020-00863-w. Epub 2020 May 13.


Outflow tract abnormalities are the most frequent congenital heart defects. These are due to the absence or dysfunction of the two main cell types, i.e., neural crest cells and secondary heart field cells that migrate in opposite directions at the same stage of development. These cells directly govern aortic arch patterning and development, ascending aorta dilatation, semi-valvular and coronary artery development, aortopulmonary septation abnormalities, persistence of the ductus arteriosus, trunk and proximal pulmonary arteries, sub-valvular conal ventricular septal/rotational defects, and non-compaction of the left ventricle. In some cases, depending on the functional defects of these cells, additional malformations are found in the expected spatial migratory area of the cells, namely in the pharyngeal arch derivatives and cervico-facial structures. Associated non-cardiovascular anomalies are often underestimated, since the multipotency and functional alteration of these cells can result in the modification of multiple neural, epidermal, and cervical structures at different levels. In most cases, patients do not display the full phenotype of abnormalities, but congenital cardiac defects involving the ventricular outflow tract, ascending aorta, aortic arch and supra-aortic trunks should be considered as markers for possible impaired function of these cells. Neural crest cells should not be considered as a unique cell population but on the basis of their cervical rhombomere origins R3-R5 or R6-R7-R8 and specific migration patterns: R3-R4 towards arch II, R5-R6 arch III and R7-R8 arch IV and VI. A better understanding of their development may lead to the discovery of unknown associated abnormalities, thereby enabling potential improvements to be made to the therapeutic approach.

Keywords: Anomalies; Arterial pole; Cardiac neural crest; Heart; Neural crest cells; Outflow tract development; Rhombomeric specification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / abnormalities*
  • Body Patterning / genetics
  • Cell Movement* / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / cytology*


  • MicroRNAs