Coordination between functionally related adjacent tissues is essential during development. For example, formation of trunk neural crest cells (NCCs) is highly influenced by the adjacent mesoderm, but the molecular mechanism involved is not well understood. As part of this mechanism, fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and retinoic acid (RA) mesodermal gradients control the onset of neurogenesis in the extending neural tube. In this paper, using gain- and loss-of-function experiments, we show that caudal FGF signaling prevents premature specification of NCCs and, consequently, premature epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) to allow cell emigration. In contrast, rostrally generated RA promotes EMT of NCCs at somitic levels. Furthermore, we show that FGF and RA signaling control EMT in part through the modulation of elements of the bone morphogenetic protein and Wnt signaling pathways. These data establish a clear role for opposition of FGF and RA signaling in control of the timing of NCC EMT and emigration and, consequently, coordination of the development of the central and peripheral nervous system during vertebrate trunk elongation.
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