Ahlgren, Sara Program in Developmental Biology, Children’s Memorial Research Center, Chicago, Illinois.
Last reviewed:August 2020
- Evolution of neural crest cells
- Key experimental advances
- Migratory mesenchymal cells
- Contributions to the nervous system
- Mesenchyme and skeleton
- Pigment cells
- Birth defects
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A term used in embryology to describe a set of cells arising from the ectoderm. The ectoderm is the germ layer that also gives rise to the neural tube and the epidermis, and the neural crest arises at the junction of these two tissues. During the process of neurulation, the region that represents the border between the developing neural plate and the nascent epithelium receives signals from adjacent tissues, and the program to develop into the neural crest is initiated (Fig. 1). These cells, which are initially epithelial in nature, then change into a migratory, mesenchymal, population. This epithelial-to-mesencyhmal transition has led to these cells being called ectomesenchyme or mesectoderm (also sometimes referred to as the fourth germ layer). The migration pathways that these cells take populate numerous tissues in the body, and the fate of the cells is multiple, including both neural and nonneural tissues. See also: Developmental biology; Embryology; Fate maps (embryology); Germ layers; Neurulation
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