Neural crest development: the interplay between morphogenesis and cell differentiation

Curr Top Dev Biol. 1998:40:177-209. doi: 10.1016/s0070-2153(08)60367-1.


The final pattern of tissues established during embryogenesis reflects the outcome of two developmental processes: differentiation and morphogenesis. Avian neural crest cells are an excellent system in which to study this interaction. In the first phase of neural crest cell migration, neural crest cells separate from the neural epithelium via an epithelial-mesenchymal transformation. We present three models to account for this process: (1) separation by asymmetric mitosis, (2) separation by generating tractional force in order to rupture cell adhesions and (3) loss of expression or function of cell-cell adhesion molecules that keep the presumptive neural crest cells tethered to the neural epithelium. Evidence is presented that the segregation of the neural crest lineage apart from the neural epithelium is caused by the epithelial-mesenchymal transformation. Once they have detached from the neural tube, neural crest cells take two pathways in the trunk of the chick embryo: (1) the ventral path between the neural tube and somite, where neural crest cells give rise to neurons and glial cells of the peripheral nervous systems, and (2) the dorsolateral path between the ectoderm and dermamyotome of the somite, where they differentiate into pigment cells of the skin. We present data to suggest that the migration and differentiation along the ventral path is controlled primarily by environmental cues, which we refer to as the environment-directed model of neural crest morphogenesis. Conversely, only melanoblasts can migrate into the dorsolateral space, and the ability to invade that path is dependent upon their early specification as melanoblasts. We call this the phenotype-directed model for neural crest cell migration and suggest that this latter model for the positioning of neural crest derivatives in the embryo may be more common than previously suspected. These observations invite a re-examination of patterning of other crest derivates, which previously were believed to be controlled by environmental cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Chick Embryo
  • Ectoderm / cytology
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Melanocytes / cytology
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Mitosis
  • Models, Biological
  • Morphogenesis
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / embryology*
  • Somites / cytology