It is now well established that cells from the cardiac neural crest (CNC) are essential for normal conotruncal septation. The truncal septation complex consists of the aorticopulmonary (AP) septum and the myocardial sheath of the truncus. The principal role of the CNC cells during septation appears to be their differentiation into the elastogenic smooth muscle that forms the AP septum proper. The objective of this study was to integrate serial reconstruction and specific histochemical markers in order to provide a unified analysis of the relationship between the CNC and the other components of the truncal septation complex. The development of the septation complex was compared normal embryos vs. embryos from which the CNC had been surgically ablated. Embryos from each group were harvested after incubation periods of 4–8 days (Hamburger-Hamilton stages 23–34). Histochemical procedures were performed for positive identification of the elastic matrix and smooth muscle alpha-actin; the presence of these proteins was used as the criterion for “septal cells” and to define the boundaries of the septum. The results indicate that the shape, components, boundaries, and degree of organization of the septation complex may be different from previous descriptions. Furthermore, all of the components of the truncal septation complex are dysgenic in the absence of the CNC. Of special significance in the absence of CNC are: (1) the failure of the myocardial sheath to retract; (2) the apparently random distribution of surrogate ectomesenchyme; and (3) the impairment of truncal elastogenesis.

These results indicate that the cells of neural crest origin interact with the surrounding mesenchyme during septation and that the entire septation complex depends upon the presence of the neural crest cells for normal development.