The development of neural crest cells involves an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) associated with the restriction of cadherin 6B expression to the pre-migratory neural crest cells (PMNCCs), as well as a loss of N-cadherin expression. We find that cadherin 6B, which is highly expressed in PMNCCs, persists in early migrating neural crest cells and is required for their emigration from the neural tube. Cadherin 6B-expressing PMNCCs exhibit a general loss of epithelial junctional polarity and acquire motile properties before their delamination from the neuroepithelium. Cadherin 6B selectively induces the de-epithelialization of PMNCCs, which is mediated by stimulation of BMP signaling, whereas N-cadherin inhibits de-epithelialization and BMP signaling. As BMP signaling also induces cadherin 6B expression and represses N-cadherin, cadherin-regulated BMP signaling may create two opposing feedback loops. Thus, the overall EMT of neural crest cells occurs via two distinct steps: a cadherin 6B and BMP signaling-mediated de-epithelialization, and a subsequent delamination through the basement membrane.
- Accepted May 26, 2010.