Crowning achievement in understanding head development

Confocal micrograph of an adult zebrafish head with neural crest-derived cells in red. Crump’s lab has used single-cell sequencing to understand how these cells build and repair the skeleton of the head, with implications for understanding human craniofacial birth defects and improving skeletal tissue repair. Credit: Image by Hun-Jhen Chen / Crump Lab

Cranial neural crest cells, or CNCC, contribute to many more parts of the body than their humble name suggests. Not only do these remarkable stem cells make up most of the skull and facial skeleton in all vertebrates from fish to humans, they can also produce everything from gills to corneas. To understand this diversity, scientists from Gage Crump’s lab created a series of atlases over time to understand the molecular decisions that CNCCs make to shape specific tissues in developing zebrafish. Their findings, published in Nature Communications, may provide new insights into the normal growth of the head, as well as birth defects of the skull and face.

Artificial neuron centers have long fascinated biologists with the amazing variety of types of cells they can produce. By studying this process in genetically traceable zebrafish, we’ve identified several potential switches that allow CNCC to form these very different types of cells, said Gage Crump, professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at Keck School of Medicine. Founded in 1880, the University of Southern California is one of the world’s leading private research universities. It is located in the heart of Los Angeles.

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Led by postdoc Peter Fabian and doctoral students Ko-Chang Tseng, Mathi Theropathy and Claire Arata, the team of scientists permanently labeled CNCCs a red fluorescent protein to track the types of cells that came from CNCCs throughout the lifespan of zebrafish. Then they used a powerful type of method, known as a “single cell genome,” to identify the full set of active genes and regulate (function(d, s, id){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.6"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

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