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Teratology. 2000 Mar;61(3):172-83.

Normal development of the male anterior urethra.

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Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University Hospital Groningen, 9700 RB Groningen, The Netherlands.


A histological study was performed on serially sectioned human and mouse embryos to study the influences of programmed cell death (PCD) during morphogenesis for clarifying the existing controversies on the morphology and basic processes involved in the embryonic development of the male anterior urethra. The following new insights into the development of the anterior urethra could be established. The formation of the urethra starts with the early adhesion of the arms of the genital tubercle. In this way an epithelial plate is formed, located in the ventral midline, that is in continuity with the cloacal membrane. Male sex differentiation takes place following rupture of this cloacal membrane through programmed cell death. Fusion of the urogenital swellings with primary luminization gives rise to the penile urethra, whereas the glandular part of the urethra is formed through secondary luminization of the epithelial cord that is formed during fusion of the arms of the genital tubercle, i.e., the glans. In both fusion processes, apoptosis plays a key role. The consequence of fusion of the urogenital swellings is that their mesodermal cores unite on the ventral aspect of the penile urethra, where they differentiate into the integumental structures. The prepuce starts to develop as a fold of ectoderm with a mesodermal core after complete fusion of the entire urethra. Finally, the scrotum was found to develop through merging of the labioscrotal swellings and not by fusion.

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