Trunk neural crest cells migrate through the somites in a striking segmental fashion, entering the rostral but not caudal sclerotome, via cues intrinsic to the somites. Attempts to define the molecular bases of these cues have been hampered by the lack of an accessible assay system. To examine trunk neural crest migration over time and to perturb candidate guiding molecules, we have developed a novel explant preparation. Here, we demonstrate that trunk regions of the chicken embryo, placed in explant culture, continue to develop apparently normally for 2 days. Neural crest cells, recognized by prelabeling with DiI or by poststaining with the HNK-1 antibody, migrate in the somites of the explants in their typical segmental pattern. Furthermore, this paradigm allows us to follow trunk neural crest migration in situ for the first time using low-light-level videomicroscopy. The trajectories of individual neural crest cells were often complex, with cells migrating in an episodic mode encompassing forward, backward and lateral movements. Frequently, neural crest cells migrated in close-knit groups of 2–4 cells, moving at mean rates of migration of 10–14 microns/hour. Treatment of the explants with the lectin peanut agglutinin (PNA) both slowed the rate and altered the pattern of neural crest migration. Neural crest cells entered both the rostral and caudal halves of the sclerotome with mean rates of migration ranging from 6 to 13 microns/hour. These results suggest that peanut agglutinin-binding molecules are required for the segmental patterning of trunk neural crest migration. Because this approach permits neural crest migration to be both observed and perturbed, it offers the promise of more direct assays of the factors that influence neural crest development.

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