Pax3-expressing trigeminal placode cells can localize to trunk neural crest sites but are committed to a cutaneous sensory neuron fate.


The cutaneous sensory neurons of the ophthalmic lobe of the trigeminal ganglion are derived from two embryonic cell populations, the neural crest and the paired ophthalmic trigeminal (opV) placodes. Pax3 is the earliest known marker of opV placode ectoderm in the chick. Pax3 is also expressed transiently by neural crest cells as they emigrate from the neural tube, and it is reexpressed in neural crest cells as they condense to form dorsal root ganglia and certain cranial ganglia, including the trigeminal ganglion. Here, we examined whether Pax3+ opV placode-derived cells behave like Pax3+ neural crest cells when they are grafted into the trunk. Pax3+ quail opV ectoderm cells associate with host neural crest migratory streams and form Pax3+ neurons that populate the dorsal root and sympathetic ganglia and several ectopic sites, including the ventral root. Pax3 expression is subsequently downregulated, and at E8, all opV ectoderm-derived neurons in all locations are large in diameter, and virtually all express TrkB. At least some of these neurons project to the lateral region of the dorsal horn, and peripheral quail neurites are seen in the dermis, suggesting that they are cutaneous sensory neurons. Hence, although they are able to incorporate into neural crest-derived ganglia in the trunk, Pax3+ opV ectoderm cells are committed to forming cutaneous sensory neurons, their normal fate in the trigeminal ganglion. In contrast, Pax3 is not expressed in neural crest-derived neurons in the dorsal root and trigeminal ganglia at any stage, suggesting either that Pax3 is expressed in glial cells or that it is completely downregulated before neuronal differentiation. Since Pax3 is maintained in opV placode-derived neurons for some considerable time after neuronal differentiation, these data suggest that Pax3 may play different roles in opV placode cells and neural crest cells.