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Dev Biol. 1999 Jun 15;210(2):381-400.

Developmental morphology of the head mesoderm and reevaluation of segmental theories of the vertebrate head: evidence from embryos of an agnathan vertebrate, Lampetra japonica.

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Department of Biology, Okayama University, Faculty of Science, Okayama, Japan.


Due to the peculiar morphology of its preotic head, lampreys have long been treated as an intermediate animal which links amphioxus and gnathostomes. To reevaluate the segmental theory of classical comparative embryology, mesodermal development was observed in embryos of a lamprey, Lampetra japonica, by scanning electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry. Signs of segmentation are visible in future postotic somites at an early neurula stage, whereas the rostral mesoderm is unsegmented and rostromedially confluent with the prechordal plate. The premandibular and mandibular mesoderm develop from the prechordal plate in a caudal to rostral direction and can be called the preaxial mesoderm as opposed to the caudally developing gastral mesoderm. With the exception of the premandibular mesoderm, the head mesodermal sheet is secondarily regionalized by the otocyst and pharyngeal pouches into the mandibular mesoderm, hyoid mesoderm, and somite 0. The head mesodermal components never develop into cephalic myotomes, but the latter develop only from postotic somites. These results show that the lamprey embryo shows a typical vertebrate phylotype and that the basic mesodermal configuration of vertebrates already existed prior to the split of agnatha-gnathostomata; lamprey does not represent an intermediate state between amphioxus and gnathostomes. Unlike interpretations of theories of head segmentation that the mesodermal segments are primarily equivalent along the axis, there is no evidence in vertebrate embryos for the presence of preotic myotomes. We conclude that mesomere-based theories of head metamerism are inappropriate and that the formulated vertebrate head should possess the distinction between primarily unsegmented head mesoderm which includes preaxial components at least in part and somites in the trunk which are shared in all the known vertebrate embryos as the vertebrate phylotype.

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