Physiological electric fields induce directional migration of mammalian cranial neural crest cells

Abijeet Singh Mehta, Pin Ha, Kan Zhu, Shi Yu Li, Kang Ting, Chia Soo, Xinli Zhang, Min Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During neurulation, cranial neural crest cells (CNCCs) migrate long distances from the neural tube to their terminal site of differentiation. The pathway traveled by the CNCCs defines the blueprint for craniofacial construction, abnormalities of which contribute to three-quarters of human birth defects. Biophysical cues like naturally occurring electric fields (EFs) have been proposed to be one of the guiding mechanisms for CNCC migration from the neural tube to identified position in the branchial arches. Such endogenous EFs can be mimicked by applied EFs of physiological strength that has been reported to guide the migration of amphibian and avian neural crest cells (NCCs), namely galvanotaxis or electrotaxis. However, the behavior of mammalian NCCs in external EFs has not been reported. We show here that mammalian CNCCs migrate towards the anode in direct current (dc) EFs. Reversal of the field polarity reverses the directedness. The response threshold was below 30 ​mV/mm and the migration directedness and displacement speed increased with increase in field strength. Both CNCC line (O9-1) and primary mouse CNCCs show similar galvanotaxis behavior. Our results demonstrate for the first time that the mammalian CNCCs respond to physiological EFs by robust directional migration towards the anode in a voltage-dependent manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental biology
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Cranial neural crest cells
  • Directional cell migrations
  • Electric fields
  • Electrotaxis
  • Galvanotaxis
  • Mouse
  • O9-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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