Signaling mechanisms controlling neural crest migration

Neural crest cells are highly migratory cells contributing to a broad range of vertebrate tissues and failure in their migration can result in severe birth defects and malformation syndromes. Neural crest migration is controlled by various means including chemotaxis, guidance cues and dynamic cell-cell contacts. Non-canonical planar cell polarity (PCP) Wnt signaling has been shown to play a role in contact inhibition of locomotion, a phenomenon whereby neural crest cells change their directionality upon neural crest cell-cell contact. Although dynamic cell contacts have been acknowledged as regulators of neural crest migration, their molecular dynamics as well as the means by which cell contact information is translated into cell polarity and directional migration remains largely unclear. In our lab we analyze the role of Wnt signaling pathways as well as cell adhesion and receptor/ligand complexes in the regulation of neural crest migration and communication.

Pathomechanisms of neurocrestopathies

Neurocrestopathies are human syndromes and congenital defects resulting from improper neural crest development. Xenopus is a vertebrate model system, which allows for fast analysis of conserved signaling cascades with relevance to human disease. Gain- and loss of function can be easily performed and processes such as neural crest migration can be analyzed in a matter of days. Thus, this model system is well suited to analyze potential neurocrestopathies on a molecular level.