Neural crest cells are a temporary group of cells that arise from the embryonic ectoderm germ layer, and in turn give rise to a diverse cell lineage—including melanocytes, craniofacial cartilage and bone, smooth muscle, peripheral and enteric neurons and glia.
After gastrulation, neural crest cells are specified at the border of the neural plate and the non-neural ectoderm. During neurulation, the borders of the neural plate, also known as the neural folds, converge at the dorsal midline to form the neural tube. Subsequently, neural crest cells from the roof plate of the neural tube undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition, delaminating from the neuroepithelium and migrating through the periphery where they differentiate into varied cell types. The emergence of neural crest was important in vertebrate evolution because many of its structural derivatives are defining features of the vertebrate clade.
Underlying the development of neural crest is a gene regulatory network, described as a set of interacting signals, transcription factors, and downstream effector genes that confer cell characteristics such as multipotency and migratory capabilities. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of neural crest formation is important for our knowledge of human disease because of its contributions to multiple cell lineages. Abnormalities in neural crest development cause neurocristopathies, which include conditions such as frontonasal dysplasia, Waardenburg–Shah syndrome, and DiGeorge syndrome.
Therefore, defining the mechanisms of neural crest development may reveal key insights into vertebrate evolution and neurocristopathies.
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