Induction and development of neural crest in Xenopus laevis
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Neural crest cells are a migratory embryonic cell population that form at the border between the neural plate and the future epidermis. This border, the neural plate border, corresponds to the neural fold. The neural fold surrounds the entire neural plate, but only the lateral and posterior portions of the fold give rise to neural crest cells, while the anterior neural fold differentiates as forebrain. This review focuses on neural crest development in Xenopus laevis embryos, and analyzes aspects of the induction of the neural crest in Xenopus, summarizing available information relating to the expression of several genes in the neural crest. Two models for neural crest induction are discussed. In the first model, the neural crest is induced by the interaction between the neural plate and the epidermis. In the second, the specification of the neural plate border arises as a consequence of a gradient of BMP activity. The role of posteriorizing signals on neural crest specification is also discussed. Finally, we propose that the specification and differentiation of the neural crest is controlled by a cascade of transcription factors, encoded and expressed from a hierarchy of genes. A set of extracellular signals establishes the positional information in the ectoderm, which activates Prepattern genes (Gli, Xiro, Zic, Dlx, etc.) across extended and overlapping domains. A local combination of these genes at the neural plate border activates the cascade of neural crest specification, while different sets of genes are activated at both sides of the neural folds (in the epidermis and the neural plate). The genes activated in regions adjacent to the neural plate border have an inhibitory effect on the neural crest transcription program.
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