Neural crest cells, which are specific to vertebrates, arise in the ectoderm but can generate cell types that are typically categorized as mesodermal. This broad developmental potential persists past the time when most ectoderm-derived cells become lineage-restricted. The ability of neural crest to contribute mesodermal derivatives to the bauplan has raised questions about how this apparent gain in potential is achieved. Here, we describe shared molecular underpinnings of potency in neural crest and blastula cells. We show that in Xenopus, key neural crest regulatory factors are also expressed in blastula animal pole cells and promote pluripotency in both cell types. We suggest that neural crest cells may have evolved as a consequence of a subset of blastula cells retaining activity of the regulatory network underlying pluripotency.
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