Thyroid hormone (TH) regulates diverse developmental events and can drive disparate cellular outcomes. In zebrafish, TH has opposite effects on neural crest derived pigment cells of the adult stripe pattern, limiting melanophore population expansion, yet increasing yellow/orange xanthophore numbers. To learn how TH elicits seemingly opposite responses in cells having a common embryological origin, we analyzed individual transcriptomes from thousands of neural crest derived cells, reconstructed developmental trajectories, identified pigment cell-lineage specific responses to TH, and assessed roles for TH receptors. We show that TH promotes maturation of both cell types but in distinct ways. In melanophores, TH drives terminal differentiation, limiting final cell numbers. In xanthophores, TH promotes accumulation of orange carotenoids, making the cells visible. TH receptors act primarily to repress these programs when TH is limiting. Our findings show how a single endocrine factor integrates very different cellular activities during the generation of adult form.
** corresponding authors