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Curr Top Dev Biol. 2000;47:183-246.

The origin and morphogenesis of amphibian somites.

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Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22903, USA.


The origin and development of the amphibian somitic mesoderm is summarized and reviewed with the goal of identifying issues most profitably pursued in these organisms. The location of the prospective somitic mesoderm as well as the cell movements bringing this tissue into its definitive position varies among amphibians. These variations have implications for the tissue interactions patterning the embryo, the design of the gastrulation movements, the role of the somitic mesoderm in early patterning and morphogenic processes, and the nature of the developmental pathway leading to somites. The presegmentation morphogenesis, the process of segmentation, and the subsequent, postsegmentation morphogenesis of the somitic mesoderm also varies considerably among amphibians. Although segmentation in amphibians shares what may be highly conserved and general patterning mechanisms with other vertebrates, the somitic developmental pathway as a whole is not conservative and has been capable of accommodating the use of a number of quite different morphogenic processes, all leading to very similar ends. The major challenges in studying amphibian somitogenesis are to develop molecular markers for major components of the somite, to determine the derivatives of the somite with better cell tracing experiments, and learning to work with the small dermatomal and sclerotomal cell populations found in most species. A potential advantage is that the diversity of somitogenesis among the amphibians makes this group ideal for studying the evolution of developmental processes. In addition, many amphibians allow direct observation of somitogenesis with great resolution and permit biomechanical analysis of tissues participating in morphogenesis, thus making it possible to analyze cellular mechanisms of morphogenesis in ways not possible in most other systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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