Proper craniofacial development begins during gastrulation and requires the coordinated integration of each germ layer tissue (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm) and its derivatives in concert with the precise regulation of cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation. Neural crest cells, which are derived from ectoderm, are a migratory progenitor cell population that generates most of the cartilage, bone, and connective tissue of the head and face. Neural crest cell development is regulated by a combination of intrinsic cell autonomous signals acquired during their formation, balanced with extrinsic signals from tissues with which the neural crest cells interact during their migration and differentiation. Although craniofacial anomalies are typically attributed to defects in neural crest cell development, the cause may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Therefore, we performed a phenotype-driven ENU mutagenesis screen in mice with the aim of identifying novel alleles in an unbiased manner, that are critically required for early craniofacial development. Here we describe 10 new mutant lines, which exhibit phenotypes affecting frontonasal and pharyngeal arch patterning, neural and vascular development as well as sensory organ morphogenesis. Interestingly, our data imply that neural crest cells and endothelial cells may employ similar developmental programs and be interdependent during early embryogenesis, which collectively is critical for normal craniofacial morphogenesis. Furthermore our novel mutants that model human conditions such as exencephaly, craniorachischisis, DiGeorge, and Velocardiofacial sydnromes could be very useful in furthering our understanding of the complexities of specific human diseases.
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