Sacral neural crest-derived cells enter the aganglionic colon of Ednrb-/- mice along extrinsic nerve fibers.
Both vagal and sacral neural crest cells contribute to the enteric nervous system in the hindgut. Because it is difficult to visualize sacral crest cells independently of vagal crest, the nature and extent of the sacral crest contribution to the enteric nervous system are not well established in rodents. To overcome this problem we generated mice in which only the fluorescent protein-labeled sacral crest are present in the terminal colon. We found that sacral crest cells were associated with extrinsic nerve fibers. We investigated the source, time of appearance, and characteristics of the extrinsic nerve fibers found in the aganglionic colon. We observed that the pelvic ganglion neurons contributed a number of extrinsic fibers that travel within the hindgut between circular and longitudinal muscles and within the submucosa and serosa. Sacral crest-derived cells along these fibers diminished in number from fetal to postnatal stages. A small number of sacral crest-derived cells were found between the muscle layers and expressed the neuronal marker Hu. We conclude that sacral crest cells enter the hindgut by advancing on extrinsic fibers and, in aganglionic preparations, they form a small number of neurons at sites normally occupied by myenteric ganglia. We also examined the colons of ganglionated preparations and found sacral crest-derived cells associated with both extrinsic nerve fibers and nascent ganglia. Extrinsic nerve fibers serve as a route of entry for both rodent and avian sacral crest into the hindgut.