Neuropilins define distinct populations of neural crest cells

Rachael Lumb, Sophie Wiszniak, Samuela Kabbara, Michaela Scherer, Natasha Harvey, Quenten Schwarz

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Neural crest cells (NCCs) are a transient embryonic cell type that give rise to a wide spectrum of derivatives, including neurons and glia of the sensory and autonomic nervous system, melanocytes and connective tissues in the head. Lineage-tracing and functional studies have shown that trunk NCCs migrate along two distinct paths that correlate with different developmental fates. Thus, NCCs migrating ventrally through the anterior somite form sympathetic and sensory ganglia, whereas NCCs migrating dorsolaterally form melanocytes. Although the mechanisms promoting migration along the dorsolateral path are well defined, the molecules providing positional identity to sympathetic and sensory-fated NCCs that migrate along the same ventral path are ill defined. Neuropilins (Nrp1 and Nrp2) are transmembrane glycoproteins that are essential for NCC migration. Nrp1 and Nrp2 knockout mice have disparate phenotypes, suggesting that these receptors may play a role in sorting NCCs biased towards sensory and sympathetic fates to appropriate locations. Results: Here we have combined in situ hybridisation, immunohistochemistry and lineage-tracing analyses to demonstrate that neuropilins are expressed in a non-overlapping pattern within NCCs. Whereas Nrp1 is expressed in NCCs emigrating from hindbrain rhombomere 4 (r4) and within trunk NCCs giving rise to sympathetic and sensory ganglia, Nrp2 is preferentially expressed in NCCs emigrating from r2 and in trunk NCCs giving rise to sensory ganglia. By generating a tamoxifen-inducible lineage-tracing system, we further demonstrate that Nrp2-expressing NCCs specifically populate sensory ganglia including the trigeminal ganglia (V) in the head and the dorsal root ganglia in the trunk. Conclusions: Taken together, our results demonstrate that Nrp1 and Nrp2 are expressed in different populations of NCCs, and that Nrp2-expressing NCCs are strongly biased towards a sensory fate. In the trunk, Nrp2-expressing NCCs specifically give rise to sensory ganglia, whereas Nrp1-expressing NCCs likely give rise to both sensory and sympathetic ganglia. Our findings therefore suggest that neuropilins play an essential role in coordinating NCC migration with fate specification.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
JournalNeural Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 3 Nov 2014


  • Neural crest cell
  • Neuropilin
  • Sensory neuron
  • Sympathetic neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience

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