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Curr Top Dev Biol. 2000;48:1-42.

Evolution and development of distinct cell lineages derived from somites.

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Institute of Anatomy, University of Freiburg, Germany.


In the vertebrate embryo, the somites arise from the paraxial mesoderm as paired mesodermal units in a craniocaudal sequence. Segmentation is also the underlying principle of the body plan in annelids and arthropods. Genes controlling segmentation have been identified that are highly conserved in organisms belonging to different phyla. Segmentation facilitates movement and regionalization of the vertebrate body. Its traces in humans are, for example, vertebral bodies, intervertebral disks, ribs, and spinal nerves. Somite research has a history of at least three centuries. Detailed morphological data have accumulated on the development of the avian somite. Especially in connection with the quailchick interspecific marker system, progress was made toward an understanding of underlying mechanisms. At first each somite consists of an outer epithelium and a mesenchymal core. Later, the ventral portion of the somite undergoes de-epithelialization and gives rise to the sclerotome, whereas the dorsal portion forms the dermomyotome. The dermomyotome is the source of myotomal muscle cells and the dermis of the back. It also yields the hypaxial muscle buds at flank level and the myogenic cells invading the limb buds. The dorsal and ventral somitic domains express different sets of developmental control genes, for example, those of the Pax family. During later stages of development, the sclerotomes undergo a new arrangement called "resegmentation" leading to the fusion of the caudal half of one sclerotome with the cranial half of the following sclerotome. Further somitic derivatives include fibroblasts, smooth muscle, and endothelial cells. While sclerotome formation is controlled by the notochord, signals from the dorsal neural tube and ectoderm support the development of the dermomyotome. Myogenic precursor cells for the limb bud are recruited from the dermomyotome by the interaction of c-met with its ligand scatter factor (SF/HGF). In the evolution of metamerism in vertebrates, the first skeletal elements were primitive parts of neural arches, while axial elements developed only later in teleosts as pleurocentra and hypocentra.

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