The distribution of fibronectin and tenascin along migratory pathways of the neural crest in the trunk of amphibian embryos

H. H. Epperlein, W. Halfter, Richard P Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


It is generally assumed that in amphibian embryos neural crest cells migrate dorsally, where they form the mesenchyme of the dorsal fin, laterally (between somites and epidermis), where they give rise to pigment cells, and ventromedially (between somites and neural tube), where they form the elements of the peripheral nervous system. While there is agreement about the crest migratory routes in the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), different opinions exist about the lateral pathway in Xenopus. We investigated neural crest cell migration in Xenopus (stages 23, 32, 35/36 and 41) using the X. laevis-X. borealis nuclear marker system and could not find evidence for cells migrating laterally. We have also used immunohistochemistry to study the distribution of the extracellular matrix (ECM) glycoproteins fibronectin (FN) and tenascin (TN), which have been implicated in directing neural crest cells during their migrations in avian and mammalian embryos, in the neural crest migratory pathways of Xenopus and the axolotl. In premigratory stages of the crest, both in Xenopus (stage 22) and the axolotl (stage 25), FN was found subepidermally and in extracellular spaces around the neural tube, notochord and somites. The staining was particularly intense in the dorsal part of the embryo, but it was also present along the visceral and parietal layers of the lateral plate mesoderm. TN, in contrast, was found only in the anterior trunk mesoderm in Xenopus; in the axolotl, it was absent. During neural crest cell migration in Xenopus (stages 25-33) and the axolotl (stages 28-35), anti-FN stained the ECM throughout the embryo, whereas anti-TN staining was limited to dorsal regions. There it was particularly intense medially, i.e. in the dorsal fin, around the neural tube, notochord, dorsal aorta and at the medial surface of the somites (stage 35 in both species). During postmigratory stages in Xenopus (stage 40), anti-FN staining was less intense than anti-TN staining. In culture, axolotl neural crest cells spread differently on FN- and TN-coated substrata. On TN, the onset of cellular outgrowth was delayed for about 1 day, but after 3 days the extent of outgrowth was indistinguishable from cultures grown on FN. However, neural crest cells in 3-day-old cultures were much more flattened on FN than on TN. We conclude that both FN and TN are present in the ECM that lines the neural crest migratory pathways of amphibian embryos at the time when the neural crest cells are actively migrating. FN is present in the embryonic ECM before the onset of neural crest migration. In contrast, the appearance of TN is correlated with the initiation of migration. Since amphibian neural crest cells find FN, but not TN, to be adhesive migratory substrata in vitro, our results suggest that an interaction between these ECM components is important in regulating the onset and pathways of neural crest cell migration in the amphibian embryo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-756
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Anatomy


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