Expression of neuronal markers suggests heterogeneity of chick sympathoadrenal cells prior to invasion of the adrenal anlagen

Uwe Ernsberger*, Lorena Esposito, Sandra Partimo, Katrin Huber, Aylin Franke, John L. Bixby, Chaya Kalcheim, Klaus Unsicker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


We have analyzed the distribution of neural crest-derived precursors and the expression of catechol-aminergic and neuronal markers in developing adrenal tissue of chick embryos. Undifferentiated neural crest cells are found in presumptive adrenal regions from embryonic day 3 (E3) onward. An increasing proportion of cells expressing tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA indicates catecholaminergic differentiation of precursors not only in primary sympathetic ganglia, but also in presumptive adrenal regions. Whereas precursors and differentiating cells show mesenchymal distribution until E5, discrete adrenal anlagen form during E6. Even during E5, catecholaminergic cells with low or undetectable neurofilament M (NF-M) mRNA expression prevail in positions at which adrenal anlagen become distinct during E6. The predominance of TH-positive and NF-M-negative cells is maintained throughout embryogenesis in adrenal tissue. RNA encoding SCG10, a pan-neuronal marker like NF-M, is strongly expressed throughout adrenal anlagen during E6 but is found at reduced levels in chromaffin cells compared with neuronal cells at E15. Two additional neuronal markers, synaptotagmin 1 and neurexin 1, are expressed at low to undetectable levels in developing chromaffin cells throughout embryogenesis. The developmental regulation of neuronal markers shows at least three different patterns among the four mRNAs analyzed. Importantly, there is no generalized downregulation of neuronal markers in developing adrenal anlagen. Thus, our observations question the classical concept of chromaffin differentiation from a common sympathoadrenal progenitor expressing neuronal properties and suggest alternative models with changing instructive signals or separate progenitor populations for sympathetic neuronal and chromaffin endocrine cells.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalCell and Tissue Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Chaya Kalcheim and Klaus Unsicker are supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 488)


  • Adrenal tissue
  • Catecholaminergic differentiation
  • Chick
  • Chromaffin endocrine cells
  • Development
  • Neuronal markers
  • Sympathetic neuronal cells
  • Sympathoadrenal progenitor


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