The availability of naturally occurring and engineered mutations in mice which affect the neural crest makes the mouse embryo an important experimental system for studying neural crest cell differentiation. Here, we determine the normal developmental potential of neural crest cells by performing in situ cell lineage analysis in the mouse by microinjecting lysinated rhodamine dextran (LRD) into individual dorsal neural tube cells in the trunk. Labeled progeny derived from single cells were found in the neural tube, dorsal root ganglia, sympathoadrenal derivatives, presumptive Schwann cells and/or pigment cells. Most embryos contained labeled cells both in the neural tube and at least one neural crest derivative, and numerous clones contributed to multiple neural crest derivatives. The time of injection influenced the derivatives populated by the labeled cells. Injections at early stages of migration yielded labeled progeny in both dorsal and ventral neural crest derivatives, whereas those performed at later stages had labeled cells only in more dorsal neural crest derivatives, such as dorsal root ganglion and presumptive pigment cells. The results suggest that in the mouse embryo: (1) there is a common precursor for neural crest and neural tube cells; (2) some neural crest cells are multipotent; and (3) the timing of emigration influences the range of possible neural crest derivatives.

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