• brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF);
  • neural crest;
  • differentiation;
  • sensory neuron;
  • autonomic neuron;
  • pluripotent;
  • cell lineage;
  • cell migration;
  • clone;
  • dorsal root ganglion;
  • sympathetic ganglion;
  • bronchial arches;
  • ectoderm


Many early migratory neural crest cells are pluripotent in the sense that their progeny are able to generate more than one differentiated phenotype (Sieber-Blum and Cohen, 1980, Dev. Biol. 80:95–106; Baroffio, Dupin, and Le Douarin, 1988, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 85:5325–5329; Bronner-Fraser and Fraser, 1988, Nature 335:161–164; Sieber-Blum, 1989a, Science 243:1608–1611; Ito and Sieber-Blum, 1991, Dev. Biol. 148:95–106). At trunk levels, the neural crest contains two classes (Sieber-Blum and Cohen, 1980) and at posterior rhombencephalic levels, three different classes of pluripotent cells (Ito and Sieber-Blum, 1991). We investigated cell differentiation by in vitro clonal analysis to determine when in development the pool of pluripotent neural crest cells becomes exhausted. The data suggest that different classes of pluripotent cells, precursor cells with more restricted developmental potentials, and apparently committed cells, exist at sites of advanced migration (posterior branchial arches) and even at target sites of neural crest cell differentiation [posterior branchial arches, dorsal root ganglia (DRG), sympathetic ganglia (SG), and epidermal ectoderm]. Some putative classes of pluripotent cells persist well into the second half of embryonic development. These observations have implications for our understanding of the mechanisms that control neural crest cell migration and differentiation. They support the idea that cues originating from the microenvironment affect differentiation of pluripotent neural crest cells. One such signal appears to be brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In the presence of BDNF, but not nerve growth factor (NGF), there is a significant increase in the number of neural crest cells per colony that express a sensory neuron-specific marker. Because this increase is not accompanied by a corresponding increase in the total number of cells per colony, this suggests that BDNF plays a role in cell type specification. © 1993 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.