Trunk neural crest cells migrate extensively and give rise to diverse cell types, including cells of the sensory and autonomic nervous systems. Previously, we demonstrated that many premigratory trunk neural crest cells give rise to descendants with distinct phenotypes in multiple neural crest derivatives. The results are consistent with the idea that neural crest cells are multipotent prior to their emigration from the neural tube and become restricted in phenotype after leaving the neural tube either during their migration or at their sites of localization. Here, we test the developmental potential of migrating trunk neural crest cells by microinjecting a vital dye, lysinated rhodamine dextran (LRD), into individual cells as they migrate through the somite. By two days after injection, the LRD-labelled clones contained from 2 to 67 cells, which were distributed unilaterally in all embryos. Most clones were confined to a single segment, though a few contributed to sympathetic ganglia over two segments. A majority of the clones gave rise to cells in multiple neural crest derivatives. Individual migrating neural crest cells gave rise to both sensory and sympathetic neurons (neurofilament-positive), as well as cells with the morphological characteristics of Schwann cells, and other non-neuronal cells (both neurofilament-negative). Even those clones contributing to only one neural crest derivative often contained both neurofilament-positive and neurofilament-negative cells. Our data demonstrate that migrating trunk neural crest cells can be multipotent, giving rise to cells in multiple neural crest derivatives, and contributing to both neuronal and non-neuronal elements within a given derivative.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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