Emergence and migration of trunk neural crest cells in a snake, the California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)

The neural crest is a group of multipotent cells that emerges after an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition from the dorsal neural tube early during development. These cells then migrate throughout the embryo, giving rise to a wide variety derivatives including the peripheral nervous system, craniofacial skeleton, pigment cells, and endocrine organs. While much is known about neural crest cells in mammals, birds, amphibians and fish, relatively little is known about their development in non-avian reptiles like snakes and lizards. Results: In this study, we show for the first time ever trunk neural crest migration in a snake by labeling it with DiI and immunofluorescence. As in birds and mammals, we find that early migrating trunk neural crest cells use both a ventromedial pathway and an inter-somitic pathway in the snake. However, unlike birds and mammals, we also observed large numbers of late migrating neural crest cells utilizing the inter-somitic pathway in snake. Conclusions: We found that while trunk neural crest migration in snakes is very similar to that of other amniotes, the inter-somitic pathway is used more extensively by late-migrating trunk neural crest cells in snake.