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Abstract

Two embryonic tissues—the neural crest and the cranial placodes—give rise to most evolutionary novelties of the vertebrate head. These two tissues develop similarly in several respects: they originate from ectoderm at the neural plate border, give rise to migratory cells and develop into multiple cell fates including sensory neurons. These similarities, and the joint appearance of both tissues in the vertebrate lineage, may point to a common evolutionary origin of neural crest and placodes from a specialized population of neural plate border cells. However, a review of the developmental mechanisms underlying the induction, specification, migration and cytodifferentiation of neural crest and placodes reveals fundamental differences between the tissues. Taken together with insights from recent studies in tunicates and amphioxus, this suggests that neural crest and placodes have an independent evolutionary origin and that they evolved from the neural and non-neural side of the neural plate border, respectively. BioEssays 30:659–672, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.