Origin and evolution of the vertebrate neural crest
The neural crest is a population of multipotent, migratory stem/progenitor cells that forms at the border of neural and non-neural ectoderm in vertebrate embryos. These cells then migrate from the neural tube along defined pathways, populate numerous sites, and differentiate into diverse cells types including melanocytes, sensory and autonomic neurons, and the craniofacial skeleton. However, neural crest populations differ along the neural axis with respect to migration pathways and derivatives. For example, cranial neural crest cells give rise to cartilage and bone of the face, whereas those at trunk levels do not. Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) composed of interacting transcriptional regulators and downstream effector genes are thought to confer properties such as multipotency and migratory capacity to nascent neural crest cell populations. GRNs have been characterized for the cranial neural crest, but GRN differences along the body axis are not well understood.
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