, Volume 326, Issue 1, pp 43-55
Date: 31 May 2006

Intestinal coelomic transplants: a novel method for studying enteric nervous system development

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Normal development of the enteric nervous system (ENS) requires the coordinated activity of multiple proteins to regulate the migration, proliferation, and differentiation of enteric neural crest cells. Much of our current knowledge of the molecular regulation of ENS development has been gained from transgenic mouse models and cultured neural crest cells. We have developed a method for studying the molecular basis of ENS formation complementing these techniques. Aneural quail or mouse hindgut, isolated prior to the arrival of neural crest cells, was transplanted into the coelomic cavity of a host chick embryo. Neural crest cells from the chick host migrated to and colonized the grafted hindgut. Thorough characterization of the resulting intestinal chimeras was performed by using immunohistochemistry and vital dye labeling to determine the origin of the host-derived cells, their pattern of migration, and their capacity to differentiate. The formation of the ENS in the intestinal chimeras was found to recapitulate many aspects of normal ENS development. The host-derived cells arose from the vagal neural crest and populated the graft in a rostral-to-caudal wave of migration, with the submucosal plexus being colonized first. These crest-derived cells differentiated into neurons and glial cells, forming ganglionated plexuses grossly indistinguishable from normal ENS. The resulting plexuses were specific to the grafted hindgut, with quail grafts developing two ganglionated plexuses, but mouse grafts developing only a single myenteric plexus. We discuss the advantages of intestinal coelomic transplants for studying ENS development.