Trunk neural crest cells and motor axons move in a segmental fashion through the rostral (anterior) half of each somitic sclerotome, avoiding the caudal (posterior) half. This metameric migration pattern is thought to be caused by molecular differences between the rostral and caudal portions of the somite. Here, we describe the distribution of T-cadherin (truncated-cadherin) during trunk neural crest cell migration. T-cadherin, a novel member of the cadherin family of cell adhesion molecules was selectively expressed in the caudal half of each sclerotome at all times examined. T-cadherin immunostaining appeared graded along the rostrocaudal axis, with increasing levels of reactivity in the caudal halves of progressively more mature (rostral) somites. The earliest T-cadherin expression was detected in a small population of cells in the caudal portion of the somite three segments rostral to last-formed somite. This initial T-cadherin expression was observed concomitant with the invasion of the first neural crest cells into the rostral portion of the same somite in stage 16 embryos. When neural crest cells were ablated surgically prior to their emigration from the neural tube, the pattern of T-cadherin immunoreactivity was unchanged compared to unoperated embryos, suggesting that the metameric T-cadherin distribution occurs independent of neural crest cell signals. This expression pattern is consistent with the possibility that T-cadherin plays a role in influencing the pattern of neural crest cell migration and in maintaining somite polarity.

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