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Abstract

The highly migratory, mesenchymal neural crest cell population was discovered over 100 years ago. Proposals of these cells' origin within the neuroepithelium, and of the tissues they gave rise to, initiated decades-long heated debates, since these proposals challenged the powerful germ-layer theory. Having survived this storm, the neural crest is now regarded as a pluripotent stem cell population that makes vital contributions to an astounding array of both neural and non-neural organ systems. The earliest model systems for studying the neural crest were amphibian, and these pioneering contributions have been ably refined and extended by studies in the chick, mouse, and more recently the fish to provide detailed understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating and regulated by the neural crest. The key questions regarding control of craniofacial morphogenesis and innervation of the gut illustrate the wide range of developmental contexts in which the neural crest plays an important role. These questions also focus attention on common issues such as the role of growth factor signaling in neural crest cell development and highlight the central role of the neural crest in human congenital disease. Birth Defects Research (Part C) 72:173–189, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.