Research Article

Shared regulatory programs suggest retention of blastula-stage potential in neural crest cells

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Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1332-1335
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3655

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From blastula to neural crest, do not pass go

During vertebrate development, neural crest cells give rise to an unusual diversity of cells, including pigment cells, neurons, and cartilage. Traditionally, neural crest cells have been considered a derivative of neural ectoderm. Buitrago-Delgado et al. now show that neural crest cells have components of the molecular programs characteristic of blastula cells from earlier in development (see the Perspective by Hoppler and Wheeler). Blastula cells have the broad range of developmental potentials necessary to build the embryo. Neural crest cells may thus reflect persistence of the developmental programs characteristic of early development rather than re-specification of developmental programs after differentiation into neurectoderm.

Science, this issue p. 1332; see also p. 1316


Neural crest cells, which are specific to vertebrates, arise in the ectoderm but can generate cell types that are typically categorized as mesodermal. This broad developmental potential persists past the time when most ectoderm-derived cells become lineage-restricted. The ability of neural crest to contribute mesodermal derivatives to the bauplan has raised questions about how this apparent gain in potential is achieved. Here, we describe shared molecular underpinnings of potency in neural crest and blastula cells. We show that in Xenopus, key neural crest regulatory factors are also expressed in blastula animal pole cells and promote pluripotency in both cell types. We suggest that neural crest cells may have evolved as a consequence of a subset of blastula cells retaining activity of the regulatory network underlying pluripotency.

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