Neural crest apoptosis and the establishment of craniofacial pattern: an honorable death

Mol Cell Neurosci. 1996;8(2-3):76-83. doi: 10.1006/mcne.1996.0046.


During development of the vertebrate head neural crest cells emigrate from the hindbrain and populate the branchial arches, giving rise to distinct skeletal elements and muscle connective tissues in each arch. The production of neural crest from the hindbrain is discontinuous and crest cells destined for different arches, carrying different positional cues, are separated by regions of apoptosis centered on rhombomeres (r) 3 and r5. This cell death program is under the interactive control of the neighboring hindbrain segments. Both r3 and r5 produce large numbers of crest cells when freed from their flanking rhombomere, but when conjoined with their neighbor the cell death program is restored. Two key components of this program are Bmp 4 and msx-2, both of which are expressed in the apoptotic foci of r3 and r5 and which are also regulated by neighbor interactions. Importantly, the addition of recombinant Bmp 4 to isolated cultures of r3 and r5 induces the expression of Bmp 4 and msx-2 and restores the cell death program. This early neural crest segregation is maintained during development and it has profound effects upon the final craniofacial pattern. Even though crest cells from different axial origins will contribute to compound skeletal elements, these distinct populations do not intermingle. Furthermore head muscle connective tissues are exclusively anchored to skeletal domains arising from neural crest from the same axial level. Thus the discontinuous production of neural crest sculpts the crest into nonmixing streams and consequently ensures the fidelity of patterning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / physiology
  • Branchial Region / cytology
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Movement
  • Coturnix / embryology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • Face / embryology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes, Homeobox
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Morphogenesis
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Rhombencephalon / cytology
  • Rhombencephalon / embryology
  • Skull / embryology*
  • Vertebrates / embryology*


  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • MSX2 protein