Xenopus neural crest cells migrated toward the cathode in an applied electrical field of 10 mV/mm or greater. This behavior was observed in relatively isolated cells, as well as in groups of neural crest cells; however, the velocity of directed migration usually declined when a cell made close contact with other cells. Melanocytes with a full complement of evenly distributed melanosomes did not migrate of their own accord, but could be distorted and pulled by unpigmented neural crest cells. Incompletely differentiated melanocytes and melanocytes with aggregated melanosomes displayed the same behavior as undifferentiated neural crest cells, that is, migration toward the cathode. An electrical field of 10 mV/mm corresponded to a voltage drop of less than 1 mV across the diameter of each cell; the outer epithelium of Xenopus embryos drives an endogenous transembryonic current that may produce voltage gradients of nearly this magnitude within high-resistance regions of the embryo. We, therefore, propose that electrical current produced by the skin battery present in these embryos may act as a vector to guide neural crest migration.

This content is only available as a PDF.