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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Most of the enteric nervous system derives from the “vagal” neural crest, lying at the level of somites 1–7, which invades the digestive tract rostro-caudally from the foregut to the hindgut. Little is known about the initial phase of this colonization, which brings enteric precursors into the foregut. Here we show that the “vagal crest” subsumes two populations of enteric precursors with contrasted origins, initial modes of migration, and destinations. Crest cells adjacent to somites 1 and 2 produce Schwann cell precursors that colonize the vagus nerve, which in turn guides them into the esophagus and stomach. Crest cells adjacent to somites 3–7 belong to the crest streams contributing to sympathetic chains: they migrate ventrally, seed the sympathetic chains, and colonize the entire digestive tract thence. Accordingly, enteric ganglia, like sympathetic ones, are atrophic when deprived of signaling through the tyrosine kinase receptor ErbB3, while half of the esophageal ganglia require, like parasympathetic ones, the nerve-associated form of the ErbB3 ligand, Neuregulin-1. These dependencies might bear relevance to Hirschsprung disease, with which alleles of Neuregulin-1 are associated.