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Keywords:

  • enteric nervous system;
  • development;
  • electroporation;
  • neural crest;
  • migration;
  • aggregation;
  • dissociation;
  • migration

Abstract

Neural crest-derived cells colonize the entire gastrointestinal tract. The migration of these enteric neural crest-derived cells (ENCCs) occurs by their formation of cellular strands that extend into the intestinal mesenchyme. We have studied the behavior of crest cells that underlies the formation and extension of these strands by time-lapse microscopy. ENCCs expressing fluorescent marker molecules were visualized in situ in the embryonic mouse and chick gut. The major contributor to strand extension is from cells located within a region approximately 300 μm behind (rostral to) the most caudal cells in the migratory wavefront. Cells in the region immediately behind the leading cell of the strand either move intermittently in parallel with the leading cell, or advance caudally toward the wavefront over other ENCCs. Another addition to the strands arises from isolated cells located caudal to the wavefront. These cells showed a range of behavior including attachment and separation from the strands. The extending strands converged to form nodes, and then diverged along independent paths to form new strands, a behavior suggestive of attraction and repulsion. This behavior is probably responsible for the unique reticulated arrangement of ganglia in the enteric nervous system. As cells become positioned farther behind the wavefront, they exhibit more restricted movement and varied trajectories. We conclude that ENCCs exhibit different behaviors, depending on their position with respect to the wavefront. These different behaviors suggest a critical role for cell–cell interaction in the migratory process. Developmental Dynamics 236:84–92, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.