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Keywords:

  • epibranchial placode;
  • neural crest;
  • parasympathetic nervous system;
  • branchial arch;
  • rhombomere;
  • migration;
  • axon pathfinding;
  • specification;
  • differentiation;
  • apoptosis;
  • anteroposterior axis

Abstract

The parasympathetic reflex circuit is controlled by three basic neurons. In the vertebrate head, the sensory, and pre- and postganglionic neurons that comprise each circuit have stereotypic positions along the anteroposterior (AP) axis, suggesting that the circuit arises from a common developmental plan. Here, we show that precursors of the VIIth circuit are initially aligned along the AP axis, where the placode-derived sensory neurons provide a critical “guidepost” through which preganglionic axons and their neural crest-derived postganglionic targets navigate before reaching their distant target sites. In the absence of the placodal sensory ganglion, preganglionic axons terminate and the neural crest fated for postganglionic neurons undergo apoptosis at the site normally occupied by the placodal sensory ganglion. The stereotypic organization of the parasympathetic cranial sensory–motor circuit thus emerges from the initial alignment of its precursors along the AP axis, with the placodal sensory ganglion coordinating the formation of the motor pathway. Developmental Dynamics 239:1155–1161, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.