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Volume 3 (2003), Pages 240-264
Mini-Review Article

Making Headway: The Roles of Hox Genes and Neural Crest Cells in Craniofacial Development

Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 1000 East 50th Street, Kansas City, MO 64110, USA

Academic Editor: Roger Keynes

Copyright © 2003 Paul A. Trainor.


Craniofacial development is an extraordinarily complex process requiring the orchestrated integration of multiple specialized tissues such as the surface ectoderm, neural crest, mesoderm, and pharyngeal endoderm in order to generate the central and peripheral nervous systems, axial skeleton, musculature, and connective tissues of the head and face. How do the characteristic facial structures develop in the appropriate locations with their correct shapes and sizes, given the widely divergent patterns of cell movements that occur during head development? The patterning information could depend upon localized interactions between the epithelial and mesenchymal tissues or alternatively, the developmental program for the characteristic facial structures could be intrinsic to each individual tissue precursor. Understanding the mechanisms that control vertebrate head development is an important issue since craniofacial anomalies constitute nearly one third of all human congenital defects. This review discusses recent advances in our understanding of neural crest cell patterning and the dynamic nature of the tissue interactions that are required for normal craniofacial development.