We have used the vital dye, DiI, to analyze the contribution of sacral neural crest cells to the enteric nervous system in chick and mouse embryos. In order to label premigratory sacral neural crest cells selectively, DiI was injected into the lumen of the neural tube at the level of the hindlimb. In chick embryos, DiI injections made prior to stage 19 resulted in labelled cells in the gut, which had emerged from the neural tube adjacent to somites 29–37. In mouse embryos, neural crest cells emigrated from the sacral neural tube between E9 and E9.5. In both chick and mouse embryos, DiI-labelled cells were observed in the rostral half of the somitic sclerotome, around the dorsal aorta, in the mesentery surrounding the gut, as well as within the epithelium of the gut. Mouse embryos, however, contained consistently fewer labelled cells than chick embryos. DiI-labelled cells first were observed in the rostral and dorsal portion of the gut. Paralleling the maturation of the embryo, there was a rostral-to-caudal sequence in which neural crest cells populated the gut at the sacral level. In addition, neural crest cells appeared within the gut in a dorsal-to-ventral sequence, suggesting that the cells entered the gut dorsally and moved progressively ventrally. The present results resolve a long-standing discrepancy in the literature by demonstrating that sacral neural crest cells in both the chick and mouse contribute to the enteric nervous system in the postumbilical gut.

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