In previous studies, we showed that neural crest (NC)-derived cells from embryonic quail dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and peripheral nerve (PN), which do not normally give rise to melanocytes, become committed to melanogenesis following treatment in culture with the phorbol ester drug 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA). These and other observations support the notion that melanocytes and Schwann cells are derived from a common bipotent intermediate in the neural crest lineage—the melanocyte/Schwann cell progenitor. In this study, we test the possibility that peptide growth factors found in the embryonic environment might act similarly to TPA to influence the fates of these cells. DRG and PN explants were cultured in medium supplemented with a variety of growth factors, and then the cultures were examined for the presence of pigment cells. We found that basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), but not various other growth factors, induced pigmentation in about 20% of these cultures. When low concentrations of TPA were included in the culture medium, bFGF augmented the TPA-induced pigmentation, significantly increasing the proportion of pigmented cultures. These effects of bFGF were age-dependent, and could be blocked by addition of a bFGF-neutralizing antibody to the culture medium. In contrast to these stimulatory effects of bFGF, transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) was found to inhibit the TPA- or bFGF-induced pigmentation of DRG cultures. These data suggest, therefore, that at least some NC-derived cells are responsive to bFGF and TGF-beta 1, and that these growth factors may play an important role in the control of NC cell fate.

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