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Formation of the enteric nervous system (ENS) from migratory neural crest-derived cells that colonize the primordial gut involves a complex interplay among different signaling molecules. The bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), specifically BMP2 and BMP4, play a particularly important role in virtually every stage of gut and ENS development. BMP signaling helps to pattern both the anterior-posterior axis and the radial axis of the gut prior to colonization by migratory crest progenitor cells. BMP signaling then helps regulate the migration of enteric neural crest-derived precursors as they colonize the fetal gut and form ganglia. BMP2 and -4 promote differentiation of enteric neurons in early fetal ENS development and glia at later stages. A major role for BMP signaling in the ENS is regulation of responses to other growth factors. Thus BMP signaling first regulates neurogenesis by modulating responses to GDNF and later gliogenesis through its effects on GGF-2 responses. Furthermore, BMPs promote growth factor dependency for survival of ENS neurons (on NT-3) and glia (on GGF-2) by inducing TrkC (neurons) and ErbB3 (glia). BMP signaling limits total neuron numbers, favoring the differentiation of later born neuronal phenotypes at the expense of earlier born ones thus influencing the neuronal composition of the ENS and the glia/neuron ratio. BMP2 and -4 also promote gangliogenesis via modification of neural cell adhesion molecules and promote differentiation of the circular and then longitudinal smooth muscles. Disruption of BMP signaling leads to defects in the gut and in ENS function commensurate with these complex developmental roles. Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Alcmène Chalazonitis, John A Kessler. Pleiotropic effects of the bone morphogenetic proteins on development of the enteric nervous system. Developmental neurobiology. 2012 Jun;72(6):843-56

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PMID: 22213745

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