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A role for the neural crest in human lung development has recently been described, where neural crest cells are known to form the intrinsic innervation of the lung. However, the neural crest plays a patterning role during development of multiple organ systems, and also has the capacity to form a wide variety of tissues – areas that have not yet been investigated in the developing lung.
To evaluate their role further, we are using a mouse model to fate map lung neural crest cell development using lacZ and GFP reporters, allowing us to follow their differentiation and cell fate in lung development. We have also created a mouse model with regulatable neural crest cell ablation, which allows us to evaluate the role of neural crest cells in airway smooth muscle patterning and blood vessel development, as well as their functional effect on airway dynamics.
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A mouse lung at embryonic day 12.5. Neural crest cells (green, shown by white arrowheads) are migrating out around the airways (A), which are surrounded by smooth muscle (purple). The aorta (Ao) and esophagus (E) are also surrounded by smooth muscle. Blood vessels (B) are labeled in red. Note the proximity of neural crest cells to both airway smooth muscle and blood vessels.
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