Previous analyses of single neural crest cell trajectories have suggested important roles for interactions between neural crest cells and the environment, and amongst neural crest cells. To test the relative contribution of intrinsic versus extrinsic information in guiding cells to their appropriate sites, we ablated subpopulations of premigratory chick hindbrain neural crest and followed the remaining neural crest cells over time using a new in ovo imaging technique. Neural crest cell migratory behaviors are dramatically different in ablated compared with unoperated embryos. Deviations from normal migration appear either shortly after cells emerge from the neural tube or en route to the branchial arches, areas where cell-cell interactions typically occur between neural crest cells in normal embryos. Unlike the persistent, directed trajectories in normal embryos, neural crest cells frequently change direction and move somewhat chaotically after ablation. In addition, the migration of neural crest cells in collective chains, commonly observed in normal embryos, was severely disrupted. Hindbrain neural crest cells have the capacity to reroute their migratory pathways and thus compensate for missing neural crest cells after ablation of neighboring populations. Because the alterations in neural crest cell migration are most dramatic in regions that would normally foster cell-cell interactions, the trajectories reported here argue that cell-cell interactions have a key role in the shaping of the neural crest migration.

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