Pax3 is required for cardiac neural crest migration in the mouse: Evidence from the splotch (Sp(2H)) mutant

Simon J. Conway, Deborah J. Henderson, Andrew J. Copp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

228 Scopus citations


Neural crest cells originating in the occipital region of the avian embryo are known to play a vital role in formation of the septum of the cardiac outflow tract and to contribute cells to the aortic arches, thymus, thyroid and parathyroids. This 'cardiac' neural crest sub-population is assumed to exist in mammals, but without direct evidence. In this paper we demonstrate, using RT-PCR and in situ hybridisation, that Pax3 expression can serve as a marker of cardiac neural crest cells in the mouse embryo. Cells of this lineage were traced from the occipital neural tube, via branchial arches 3, 4 and 6, into the aortic sac and aortopulmonary outflow tract. Confirmation that these Pax3-positive cells are indeed cardiac neural crest is provided by experiments in which hearts were deprived of a source of colonising neural crest, by organ culture in vitro, with consequent lack of up-regulation of Pax3. Occipital neural crest cell outgrowths in vitro were also shown to express Pax3. Mutation of Pax3, as occurs in the splotch (Sp(2H)) mouse, results in development of conotruncal heart defects including persistent truncus arteriosus. Homozygotes also exhibit defects of the aortic arches, thymus, thyroid and parathyroids. Pax3-positive neural crest cells were found to emigrate from the occipital neural tube of Sp(2H)/Sp(2H) embryos in a relatively normal fashion, but there was a marked deficiency or absence of neural crest cells traversing branchial arches 3, 4 and 6, and entering the cardiac outflow tract. This decreased expression of Pax3 in Sp(2H)/Sp(2H) embryos was not due to down-regulation of Pax3 in neural crest cells, as use of independent neural crest markers, Hoxa-3, CrabpI, Prx1, Prx2 and c-met also revealed a deficiency of migrating cardiac neural crest cells in homozygous embryos. This work demonstrates the essential role of the cardiac neural crest in formation of the heart and great vessels in the mouse and, furthermore, shows that Pax3 function is required for the cardiac neural crest to complete its migration to the developing heart.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-514
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Embryo
  • Gene expression
  • Heart development
  • In situ hybridisation
  • Malformations
  • Mutant mouse
  • Neural crest
  • Splotch
  • Truncus arteriosus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology

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