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Dev Biol. 2006 Jul 15;295(2):700-13. Epub 2006 Apr 6.

Development of the primary mouth in Xenopus laevis.

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  • 1Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


The initial opening between the gut and the outside of the deuterostome embryo breaks through at the extreme anterior. This region is unique in that ectoderm and endoderm are directly juxtaposed, without intervening mesoderm. This opening has been called the stomodeum, buccopharyngeal membrane or oral cavity at various stages of its formation, however, in order to clarify its function, we have termed this the "primary mouth". In vertebrates, the neural crest grows around the primary mouth to form the face and a "secondary mouth" forms. The primary mouth then becomes the pharyngeal opening. In order to establish a molecular understanding of primary mouth formation, we have begun to examine this process during Xenopus laevis development. An early step during this process occurs at tailbud and involves dissolution of the basement membrane between the ectoderm and endoderm. This is followed by ectodermal invagination to create the stomodeum. A subsequent step involves localized cell death in the ectoderm, which may lead to ectodermal thinning. Subsequently, ectoderm and endoderm apparently intercalate to generate one to two cell layers. The final step is perforation, where (after hatching) the primary mouth opens. Fate mapping has defined the ectodermal and endodermal regions that will form the primary mouth. Extirpations and transplants of these and adjacent regions indicate that, at tailbud, the oral ectoderm is not specifically required for primary mouth formation. In contrast, underlying endoderm and surrounding regions are crucial, presumably sources of necessary signals. This study indicates the complexity of primary mouth formation, and lays the groundwork for future molecular analyses of this important structure.

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