We have previously described1 a monoclonal antibody (E/C8) that recognizes an avian-specific epitope present in a variety of embryonic cells, including some cultured neural crest cells, both central and peripheral neurones in vivo, and apparently non-neuronal neural crest-derived2 mesenchymal cells of the posterior (third and fourth) branchial arches 1,3. The branchial arches are transient embryonic structures that serve as the lateral and ventral walls of the primitive pharynx of vertebrates and are contiguous with the developing gut. We report here that E/C8-positive mesenchymal cells of the arches can develop into neurones spontaneously in culture, or can migrate into aneural guts with which they are co-cultured and form enteric ganglia. In contrast, these cells do not develop into melanocytes - Another derivative of the neural crest - In various permissive conditions. These results demonstrate that the mesenchymal cells of the posterior branchial arches are a developmentally restricted population of neural crest-derived cells, and some may serve as precursors for neurones of the enteric nervous system.
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