The patterning of cell types along the dorsoventral axis of the spinal cord requires a complex set of inductive signals. While the chordamesoderm is a well-known source of ventralizing signals, relatively little is known about the cues that induce dorsal cell types, including neural crest. Here, we demonstrate that juxtaposition of the non-neural and neural ectoderm is sufficient to induce the expression of dorsal markers, Wnt-1, Wnt-3a and Slug, as well as the formation of neural crest cells. In addition, the competence of neural plate to express Wnt-1 and Wnt-3a appears to be stage dependent, occurring only when neural tissue is taken from stage 8–10 embryos but not from stage 4 embryos, regardless of the age of the non-neural ectoderm. In contrast to the induction of Wnt gene expression, neural crest cell formation and Slug expression can be induced when either stage 4 or stage 8–10 neural plates are placed in contact with the non-neural ectoderm. These data suggest that the non-neural ectoderm provides a signal (or signals) that specifies dorsal cell types within the neural tube, and that the response is dependent on the competence of the neural tissue.

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