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Sympathetic neurons and chromaffin cells share a common progenitor in the neural crest in vivo

Stella Shtukmaster1, Marie Catherine Schier2, Katrin Huber1, Shlomo Krispin3, Chaya Kalcheim3* and Klaus Unsicker1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Embryology, Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology University of Freiburg, Albertstr. 17, Freiburg D-79104, Germany

2 Clinical Cooperation Unit Pediatric Oncology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg D-69120, Germany

3 Department of Medical Neurobiology, IMRIC and ELSC-Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hadassah Medical School, POB 12272, Jerusalem 9112102, Israel

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Neural Development 2013, 8:12  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-8-12

Published: 18 June 2013



The neural crest (NC) is a transient embryonic structure unique to vertebrates, which generates peripheral sensory and autonomic neurons, glia, neuroendocrine chromaffin and thyroid C-cells, melanocytes, and mesenchymal derivatives such as parts of the skull, heart, and meninges. The sympathoadrenal (SA) cell lineage is one major sub-lineage of the NC that gives rise to sympathetic neurons, chromaffin cells, and the intermediate small intensely fluorescent (SIF) cells. A key question is when during NC ontogeny do multipotent progenitors segregate into the different NC-derived lineages. Recent evidence suggested that sympathetic, sensory, and melanocyte progenitors delaminate from the thoracic neural tube (NT) in successive, largely non-overlapping waves and that at least certain NC progenitors are already fate-restricted within the NT. Whether sympathetic neurons and chromaffin cells, suggested by cell culture studies to share a common progenitor, are also fate segregated in ovo prior to emigration, is not known.


We have conducted single cell electroporations of a GFP-encoding plasmid into the dorsal midline of E2 chick NTs at the adrenomedullary level of the NC. Analysis of their derivatives, performed at E6, revealed that in most cases, labelled progeny was detected in both sympathetic ganglia and adrenal glands, where cells co-expressed characteristic marker combinations.


Our results show that sympathetic neurons and adrenal chromaffin cells share a common progenitor in the NT. Together with previous findings we suggest that phenotypic diversification of these sublineages is likely to occur after delamination from the NT and prior to target encounter.

Chicken embryo; Chromaffin cells; Neural crest; Single cell electroporation; Sympathetic neurons; Sympathoadrenal progenitors