Developmental Genetics of the Neural Crest

Students and faculty at Vanderbilt University are currently studying the effect of the development, or lack of development, of neural crest cells has on the intestinal nervous system, or enteric system, of mice and eventually people. Neural crest cells, by definition, are a group of neuroepithelial cells which condenses dorsal to the neural tube in the embryo. The cells subsequently migrate and set up dorsal root ganglia, the ganglia of the autonomic nervous system, and the pigment cells of the integument (melanocytes).


My older sister is a freshman and a molecular and cellular biology major at Vanderbilt University, and is currently working in this lab and assisting with research. She has several different jobs in the lab including monitoring and preparing solutions for the stock cabinet, autoclaving lab materials to sterilize and kill bacteria for use, and preparing the tails of mice which digest and prepare DNA collected from the tails of lab mice so that PCR (basically DNA amplification) can occur. This allows the mice to be genotyped for data in the studies of everyone else working in the lab.

They are able to use the mice for research with plans to transfer the information to humans because mice are genetically very similar to humans. Since it is not as ethically acceptable to use humans for testing like this and to genetically alter them, mice are used in their place. A scientist in the lab created his own gene to be inserted into the mice to genetically alter them for the research study. Once the researchers have gathered all of the information from the lab that is necessary, they hope to use the data to expand the research to humans. Their eventual goal for this study is to expand the research to potential drugs or treatments that may be able to be created for the diseases that they are studying.


Studying and researching neural crest development is important because neural crest cells are a model system for the study of cell type diversification during embryonic development for multiple reasons. These include its ability cell to differentiate into a limited number of cell types or into closely related family of cell (multipotency), capability of motion (motility), and ability to form a variety of derivatives ranging from neurons and glia, to cartilage, bone, and melanocytes.

I think this sort of reasearch is really incredible and innovative. My sister is really excited to be able to be a part of this study and work directly with some of the things she hopes to be working with in the future as well. If all goes well, neural crest cells could greatly impact the world of medicine and the treatment of various dieases in the near future. This particular study could help to create new medicines or be able to contribute a great deal to the world of science and health. Prior to my sister’s work in the lab, I did not know a whole lot about neural crest cells or aware of how important they are, and I was really excited to learn more about them and what she was doing!

This entry was written by Alea B. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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