• enteric nervous system;
  • cranin;
  • extracellular matrix;
  • neurogenesis;
  • autonomic development


In order to give rise to the enteric nervous system (ENS), cells migrating from the neural crest must find the bowel and cease migrating at appropriate locations within the gut. Previous studies of the development of the ENS in a mutant mouse have led to the hypothesis that laminin in the enteric mesenchyme may act as a signal to crest-derived cells to cease migrating and extend neurites (or glial processes). Implied in this hypothesis is the idea that crest-derived cells, as a prelude to their participation in ganglion formation, acquire a neurally related laminin receptor, which they do not express at pre-enteric stages of migration. As a partial test of this hypothesis, single and double label immunocytochemistry at light and electron microscopic (EM) levels were used to study the expression of cell surface laminin binding proteins by crest-derived cells in the process of migrating to or within the developing chick gut. Two antibodies (called 3070 and α-110) raised against neuronal cell surface laminin binding proteins were employed for this purpose. Laminin binding protein immunoreactivity was found to be expressed within the bowel and ganglion of Remak by a subset of crest-derived cells (identified immunocytochemically with NC-1/HNK-1 antibodies) and by all of those developing as neurons (identified immunocytochemically with antibodies to neurofilament-associated proteins). Laminin binding protein immunoreactivity was also found to be expressed in fixed neural structures elsewhere in the embryos, including cranial and spinal roots, nerves, and ganglia. In contrast, laminin binding protein immunoreactivity was not expressed by migrating crest-derived cells in the vicinity of the vagal or sacral regions of the neuraxis (from which the precursors of the ENS take origin); nor was it expressed by juxta-pharyngeal vagal crest-derived cells migrating to the foregut through the caudal branchial arches or by the caudal stream of sacral crest-derived cells approaching the hindgut. EM immunocytochemistry confirmed that laminin binding protein immunoreactivity in the bowel was located on the surfaces of crest-derived cells, and was exhibited both by those cells that could only be distinguished from their neighbors by their NC-1/HNK-1 immunoreactivity and by cells developing as neurons or glia. EM immunocytochemistry also revealed that the surfaces of crest-derived cells migrating through the enteric mesenchyme were contacted by many small osmiophilic “puffs” of laminin-immunoreactive extracellular material. These puffs coincided in location with membrane sites that expressed the immunoreactivity of the laminin binding protein. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that laminin plays a role in the formation of enteric ganglia.