• neural crest;
  • cardiac outflow tract;
  • stem cell;
  • smooth muscle;
  • TrkC;
  • neurotrophin-3;
  • norepinephrine transporter


Whereas the heart itself is of mesodermal origin, components of the cardiac outflow tract are formed by the neural crest, an ectodermal derivative that gives rise to the peripheral nervous system, endocrine cells, melanocytes of the skin and internal organs, and connective tissue, bone, and cartilage of the face and ventral neck, among other tissues. Cardiac neural crest cells participate in the septation of the cardiac outflow tract into aorta and pulmonary artery. The migratory cardiac neural crest consists of stem cells, fate-restricted cells, and cells that are committed to the smooth muscle cell lineage. During their migration within the posterior branchial arches, the developmental potentials of pluripotent neural crest cells become restricted. Conversely, neural crest stem cells persist at many locations, including in the cardiac outflow tract. Many aspects of neural crest cell differentiation are driven by growth factor action. Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and its preferred receptor, TrkC, play important roles not only in nervous system development and function, but also in cardiac development as deletion of these genes causes outflow tract malformations. In vitro clonal analysis has shown a premature commitment of cardiac neural crest stem cells in TrkC null mice and a perturbed morphology of the endothelial tube. Norepinephrine transporter (NET) function promotes the differentiation of neural crest stem cells into noradrenergic neurons. Surprisingly, many diverse nonneuronal embryonic tissues, in particular in the cardiovascular system, express NET also. It will be of interest to determine whether norepinephrine transport plays a role also in cardiovascular development. Anat Rec Part A 276A:34–42, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.