Neural crest (NC) cells are a temporary population of multipotent stem cells that generate a diverse array of cell types, including craniofacial bone and cartilage, smooth muscle cells, melanocytes, and peripheral neurons and glia during embryonic development. Defective neural crest development can cause severe and common structural birth defects, such as craniofacial anomalies and congenital heart disease. In the early vertebrate embryos, NC cells emerge from the dorsal edge of the neural tube during neurulation and then migrate extensively throughout the anterior-posterior body axis to generate numerous derivatives. Wnt signaling plays essential roles in embryonic development and cancer. This review summarizes current understanding of Wnt signaling in NC cell induction, delamination, migration, multipotency, and fate determination, as well as in NC-derived cancers.
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