PLoS genetics

Twist1 controls a cell-specification switch governing cell fate decisions within the cardiac neural crest.

PMID 23555309


Neural crest cells are multipotent progenitor cells that can generate both ectodermal cell types, such as neurons, and mesodermal cell types, such as smooth muscle. The mechanisms controlling this cell fate choice are not known. The basic Helix-loop-Helix (bHLH) transcription factor Twist1 is expressed throughout the migratory and post-migratory cardiac neural crest. Twist1 ablation or mutation of the Twist-box causes differentiation of ectopic neuronal cells, which molecularly resemble sympathetic ganglia, in the cardiac outflow tract. Twist1 interacts with the pro-neural factor Sox10 via its Twist-box domain and binds to the Phox2b promoter to repress transcriptional activity. Mesodermal cardiac neural crest trans-differentiation into ectodermal sympathetic ganglia-like neurons is dependent upon Phox2b function. Ectopic Twist1 expression in neural crest precursors disrupts sympathetic neurogenesis. These data demonstrate that Twist1 functions in post-migratory neural crest cells to repress pro-neural factors and thereby regulate cell fate determination between ectodermal and mesodermal lineages.