Molecular Signature of “Trailblazer” Neural Crest Cells Gives Insight Into Development and Cancer

Collective cell migration describes the movement of a group of cells in a directed and cohesive manner, and it plays a critical role in embryonic development, wound healing, cancer spreading, and the immune response. In the scientific journal eLife, Stowers Institute researchers recently reported the first comprehensive analysis of the molecular transitions and gene expression signatures of single migrating cells from the neural crest, a cell population crucial to organ development and the ancestral cell type of two deadly forms of human cancer. Stowers Director of Imaging Paul Kulesa, PhD, explains that they discovered a signature of 1,300 differentially expressed genes indicative of an invasive subset of migrating cells known as “trailblazers.” These genes appear to drive migration and may be part of a broader molecular signature in other biological phenomena involving cell invasion. Kulesa and his colleagues plan further studies to explore the actions of these trailblazer cells.

This study was published December 4, 2017, in the journal eLife.