Int. J. Dev. Biol. 61: 245 - 256 (2017)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.160286ds
© UPV/EHU Press

A new role of the membrane-type matrix metalloproteinase 16 (MMP16/MT3-MMP) in neural crest cell migration

Lee Roth1,2,3, Rotem Kalev-Altman1,2, Efrat Monsonego-Ornan*,2 and Dalit Sela-Donenfeld*,1

1Koret School of Veterinary Medicine and 2The Institute of Biochemistry and Nutrition, The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Hebrew University, Rehovot, Israel and 3Department of Biological Regulation, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

ABSTRACT Neural crest cells (NCCs) are a transient population of neuroectodermal-originated cells that populate the dorsal neural tube (dNT), before migrating and giving rise to multiple cell lineages in the developing embryo. Prior to their migration, NCCs undergo epithelial-to-mesenchymal-transition (EMT) through which they lose cell contacts and detach from the dNT to invade their surrounding environment. Multiple signals and transcription factors have been identified to regulate these events. Yet, less is known regarding effectors that act downstream to execute the actual NCC separation and migration. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of proteases that degrade the extracellular matrix as well as other pericellular proteins during processes of tissue remodeling, angiogenesis and metastasis. Previously, we and others have demonstrated the role of the gelatinases MMP2 and MMP9 during the onset of NCC migration. Several evidences link the cleavage and activation of these secreted gelatinases to the activity of membrane-type MMPs (MT-MMP), such as MMP14 and MMP16, which are tethered to plasma membrane and affect various cellular behaviors. The aim of this study was to investigate whether MMP16 acts in NCCs. Here we demonstrate the expression of MMP16 mRNA and protein in cranial NCCs in avian embryos. Knockdown of MMP16 inhibited NCC migration. This inhibition was rescued by the addition of recombinant MMP16, which was also sufficient to increase proper NCC migration. Furthermore, excess MMP16 caused enhanced NCC EMT, concomitant with degradation of dNT-related proteins, laminin and N-cadherin. Altogether, these results uncover MMP16 as a new effector participating in EMT and in the migration of NCCs.


chick embryo, dorsal neural tube, EMT, laminin, cadherin

*Corresponding author e-mail: