The autonomic nervous system, composed of sympathetic- and para-sympathetic neurons, plays essential roles in a variety of physiological functions including homeostasis and responses to external stimuli. We here present an overview of recent findings concerning how the sympathetic nervous system is formed during the early development, paying particular attention to the morphogenesis of those tissues derived from migrating neural crest cells. Neural crest cells, originally multipotent, are progressively specified to sympathetic ganglia neurons and adrenomedullary cells during their migration through the body. Importantly, the dorsal aorta, the first-forming blood vessel, acts as a signaling center for their migration and differentiation. BMP signals emanating from the dorsal aorta are essential for establishing environmental cues that directly act on the migrating cells. The mechanisms underlying these early neuro-vascular interactions provide insights into understanding diseases caused by malfunctions and malformations of the autonomic nervous system.
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