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Development. 2002 Jan;129(1):13-24.

Polarized basolateral cell motility underlies invagination and convergent extension of the ascidian notochord.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. munroem@u.washington.edu


We use 3D time-lapse analysis of living embryos and laser scanning confocal reconstructions of fixed, staged, whole-mounted embryos to describe three-dimensional patterns of cell motility, cell shape change, cell rearrangement and tissue deformation that accompany formation of the ascidian notochord. We show that notochord formation involves two simultaneous processes occurring within an initially monolayer epithelial plate: The first is invagination of the notochord plate about the axial midline to form a solid cylindrical rod. The second is mediolaterally directed intercalation of cells within the plane of the epithelial plate, and then later about the circumference of the cylindrical rod, that accompanies its extension along the anterior/posterior (AP) axis. We provide evidence that these shape changes and rearrangements are driven by active extension of interior basolateral notochord cell edges directly across the faces of their adjacent notochord neighbors in a manner analogous to leading edge extension of lamellapodia by motile cells in culture. We show further that local edge extension is polarized with respect to both the AP axis of the embryo and the apicobasal axis of the notochord plate. Our observations suggest a novel view of how active basolateral motility could drive both invagination and convergent extension of a monolayer epithelium. They further reveal deep similarities between modes of notochord morphogenesis exhibited by ascidians and other chordate embryos, suggesting that cellular mechanisms of ascidian notochord formation may operate across the chordate phylum.

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