Donnell, A.M.O., Bannigan, J. & Puri, P. Ped Surgery Int (2005) 21: 180. doi:10.1007/s00383-004-1316-2
The cloaca, the caudal limit of the avian gastrointestinal tract, acts as a collecting chamber into which the gastrointestinal, urinary, and genital tracts discharge. It is intrinsically innervated by the enteric nervous system, which is derived from neural crest émigrés that migrate from the vagal and sacral regions of the neural tube. Abnormal cloacal development can cause a number of anorectal anomalies, including persistent cloaca. Ablation of the vagal neural crest has previously been shown to result in an aganglionic hindgut to the extent of the colorectum. The aim of our study was to investigate the effect of vagal neural crest ablation on the cloaca, the limit of the hindgut in the developing chick embryo. Chick embryos were incubated until the 10–12 somite stage. The vagal neural tube corresponding to the level of somites 3–6 was then ablated, and eggs were incubated until harvested on embryonic day 11 (E11). Whole chick embryos were fixed, embedded in paraffin, and sectioned. Immunohistochemistry was then carried out using the HNK-1 monoclonal antibody to label neural crest cells, and results were assessed by light microscopy. Vagal neural crest ablation resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of neural crest cells colonizing the chick embryo cloaca compared with control embryos. Ablated embryos contained only a small number of HNK-1-positive neural crest cells, which were scattered within the myenteric plexus in a disorganised pattern. Hypoganglionosis was also evident in other regions of the hindgut in ablated embryos. Ablation of the vagal neural crest results in a hypoganglionic cloaca in addition to hypoganglionosis of the hindgut. These results suggest that the cloaca is largely innervated by vagal neural crest émigrés. Further studies involving quail-chick chimeras to investigate the exact contribution provided by both vagal and sacral neural crest cells to the cloaca should increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of conditions like persistent cloaca.