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Development. 1992 Jul;115(3):657-72.

The neural tube/notochord complex is necessary for vertebral but not limb and body wall striated muscle differentiation.

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  • 1Institut d'Embryologie Cellulaire et Mol├ęculaire du CNRS, Nogent-sur-Marne, France.


The aim of this work was to investigate the role played by the axial organs, neural tube and notochord, on the differentiation of muscle cells from the somites in the avian embryo. Two of us have previously shown that neuralectomy and notochordectomy is followed by necrosis of the somites and consecutive absence of vertebrae and of most muscle cells derived from the myotomes while the limbs develop normally with muscles. Here we have focused our attention on muscle cell differentiation by using the 13F4 mAb that recognizes a cytoplasmic antigen specific of all types of muscle cells. We show that differentiation of muscle cells of myotomes can occur in the absence of notochord and neural tube provided that the somites from which they are derived have been in contact with the axial organs for a defined period of time, about 10 hours for the first somites formed at the cervical level, a duration that progressively reduces caudalward (i.e. for thoracic and lumbar somites). Either one or the other of the two axial organs, the neural tube or the notochord can prevent somitic cell death and fulfill the requirements for myotomal muscle cell differentiation. Separation of the neural tube/notochord complex from the somites by a surgical slit on one side of the embryo gave the same results as extirpation of these organs and provided a perfect control on the non-operated side. A striking finding was that limb and body wall muscles, although derived from the somites, differentiated in the absence of the axial organs. However, limb muscles that develop after excision of the neural tube started to degenerate from E10 onward due to lack of innervation. In vitro explantation of somites from different axial levels confirmed and defined precisely the chronology of muscle cell commitment in the myotomes as revealed by the in vivo experiments.

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