Insight into how the neural crest cells of the developing embryo can generate such diverse tissues
In the first few days of life, embryonic cells ‘switch on’ or express different patterns of genes – helping them develop into a variety of tissues. Yet in these zebrafish, researchers find another subtle control on development. They compare genes expressed in neural crest cells (highlighted in red) at different stages as the zebrafish’s head develops. Of course they find big differences, but not just in the gene patterns, also in the chromatin – the protective material that supports the DNA. The chromatin shifts to expose DNA regions called enhancers – these act as landing strips for proteins that help switch on important genes nearby. The team find different enhancers working at different times, with more revealed as development progresses. This may help to explain how such diverse tissues – including bone and muscle – develop from a common pool of neural crest cells, and might one day guide treatments to aid similar processes in humans.
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