The neural crest (NC) of vertebrate embryos yields cell types belonging to the neural, melanocytic and mesectodermal lineages. To test the possibility that the precursors of these lineages segregate from pluripotent cells by a process involving stochastic determinants, we have analyzed with statistical methods the associations between six differentiated cell types in 201 clones obtained in vitro from migrating cephalic NC cells. Our analysis suggests that neuronal, adrenergic and Schwann cells are not randomly associated, whereas these neural cell types differentiate in the clones independently of both melanocytes and cartilage. These results raise the possibility that pluripotent NC progenitors give rise to the precursors of the major NC-derived lineages (neural, melanocytic and mesectodermal) by a process involving stochastic restrictions of their developmental potentialities.

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