The generation of sensory and autonomic neurons from the neural crest requires the functions of two classes of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors, the Neurogenins (NGNs) and MASH-1, respectively (Fode, C., Gradwohl, G., Morin, X., Dierich, A., LeMeur, M., Goridis, C. and Guillemot, F. (1998) Neuron 20, 483–494; Guillemot, F., Lo, L.-C., Johnson, J. E., Auerbach, A., Anderson, D. J. and Joyner, A. L. (1993) Cell 75, 463–476; Ma, Q., Chen, Z. F., Barrantes, I. B., de la Pompa, J. L. and Anderson, D. J. (1998 Neuron 20, 469–482). We have cloned two chick NGNs and found that they are expressed in a subset of neural crest cells early in their migration. Ectopic expression of the NGNs in vivo biases migrating neural crest cells to localize in the sensory ganglia, and induces the expression of sensory neuron-appropriate markers in non-sensory crest derivatives. Surprisingly, the NGNs can also induce the expression of multiple pan-neuronal and sensory-specific markers in the dermomyotome, a mesodermal derivative. Taken together, these data suggest that a subset of neural crest cells may already be specified for a sensory neuron fate early in migration, as a consequence of NGN expression.

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