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BMC Biol. 2013 Mar 28;11:27. doi: 10.1186/1741-7007-11-27.

The buccohypophyseal canal is an ancestral vertebrate trait maintained by modulation in sonic hedgehog signaling.

Author information

  • 1Department of Craniofacial Development and Stem Cell Research, Comprehensive Biomedical Research Center, Dental Institute, King's College London, London, UK. roman.khonsari@kcl.ac.uk

Erratum in

  • BMC Biol. 2013;11:70.



The pituitary gland is formed by the juxtaposition of two tissues: neuroectoderm arising from the basal diencephalon, and oral epithelium, which invaginates towards the central nervous system from the roof of the mouth. The oral invagination that reaches the brain from the mouth is referred to as Rathke's pouch, with the tip forming the adenohypophysis and the stalk disappearing after the earliest stages of development. In tetrapods, formation of the cranial base establishes a definitive barrier between the pituitary and oral cavity; however, numerous extinct and extant vertebrate species retain an open buccohypophyseal canal in adulthood, a vestige of the stalk of Rathke's pouch. Little is currently known about the formation and function of this structure. Here we have investigated molecular mechanisms driving the formation of the buccohypophyseal canal and their evolutionary significance.


We show that Rathke's pouch is located at a boundary region delineated by endoderm, neural crest-derived oral mesenchyme and the anterior limit of the notochord, using CD1, R26R-Sox17-Cre and R26R-Wnt1-Cre mouse lines. As revealed by synchrotron X-ray microtomography after iodine staining in mouse embryos, the pouch has a lobulated three-dimensional structure that embraces the descending diencephalon during pituitary formation. Polaris(fl/fl); Wnt1-Cre, Ofd1(-/-) and Kif3a(-/-) primary cilia mouse mutants have abnormal sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling and all present with malformations of the anterior pituitary gland and midline structures of the anterior cranial base. Changes in the expressions of Shh downstream genes are confirmed in Gas1(-/-) mice. From an evolutionary perspective, persistence of the buccohypophyseal canal is a basal character for all vertebrates and its maintenance in several groups is related to a specific morphology of the midline that can be related to modulation in Shh signaling.


These results provide insight into a poorly understood ancestral vertebrate structure. It appears that the opening of the buccohypophyseal canal depends upon Shh signaling and that modulation in this pathway most probably accounts for its persistence in phylogeny.

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