Parasympathetic neurons originate from nerve-associated peripheral glial progenitors

Science  04 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6192, pp. 82-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253281

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Exploiting nervous paths already traveled

The parasympathetic nervous system helps regulate the functions of many tissues and organs, including the salivary glands and the esophagus. To do so, it needs to reach throughout the body, connecting central systems to peripheral ones. Dyachuk et al. and Espinosa-Medina et al. explored how these connections are established in mice (see the Perspective by Kalcheim and Rohrer). Progenitor cells that travel along with the developing nerves can give rise to both myelinforming Schwann cells and to parasympathetic neurons. That means the interacting nerves do not have to find each other. Instead, the beginnings of the connections are laid down as the nervous system develops.

Science, this issue p. 82, p. 87; see also p. 32


The peripheral autonomic nervous system reaches far throughout the body and includes neurons of diverse functions, such as sympathetic and parasympathetic. We show that the parasympathetic system in mice—including trunk ganglia and the cranial ciliary, pterygopalatine, lingual, submandibular, and otic ganglia—arise from glial cells in nerves, not neural crest cells. The parasympathetic fate is induced in nerve-associated Schwann cell precursors at distal peripheral sites. We used multicolor Cre-reporter lineage tracing to show that most of these neurons arise from bi-potent progenitors that generate both glia and neurons. This nerve origin places cellular elements for generating parasympathetic neurons in diverse tissues and organs, which may enable wiring of the developing parasympathetic nervous system.

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