The development of the vertebrate face is a dynamic multi-step process which starts with the formation of neural crest cells in the developing brain and their subsequent migration to form, together with mesodermal cells, the facial primordia. Signalling interactions co-ordinate the outgrowth of the facial primordia from buds of undifferentiated mesenchyme into the intricate series of bones and cartilage structures that, together with muscle and other tissues, form the adult face. Some of the molecules that are thought to be involved have been identified through the use of mouse mutants, data from human craniofacial syndromes and by expression studies of signalling molecules during facial development. However, the way that these molecules control the epithelial-mesenchymal interactions which mediate facial outgrowth and morphogenesis is unclear. The role of neural crest cells in these processes has also not yet been well defined. In this review we discuss the complex interaction of all these processes during face development and describe the candidate signalling molecules and their possible target genes.
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