Reprogramming of avian neural crest axial identity and cell fate

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1570-1573
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2729

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Versatile embryonic neural crest cells

Neural crest cells wander far and wide through the developing vertebrate embryo to build tissues such as the jaw and peripheral nerves. Simoes-Costa et al. show, studying chick embryos, that not all neural crest cells are alike. The expression of a handful of transcription factors identifies cranial neural crest cells as distinct from trunk neural crest cells. Ectopic expression of some of these factors caused trunk neural crest cells to function as cranial neural crest cells. Thus, embryonic neural crest cells carry subspecialties that are defined but malleable.

Science, this issue p. 1570


Neural crest populations along the embryonic body axis of vertebrates differ in developmental potential and fate, so that only the cranial neural crest can contribute to the craniofacial skeleton in vivo. We explored the regulatory program that imbues the cranial crest with its specialized features. Using axial-level specific enhancers to isolate and perform genome-wide profiling of the cranial versus trunk neural crest in chick embryos, we identified and characterized regulatory relationships between a set of cranial-specific transcription factors. Introducing components of this circuit into neural crest cells of the trunk alters their identity and endows these cells with the ability to give rise to chondroblasts in vivo. Our results demonstrate that gene regulatory circuits that support the formation of particular neural crest derivatives may be used to reprogram specific neural crest–derived cell types.

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