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Mech Dev. 2000 Mar 1;91(1-2):19-30.

Surface ectoderm is necessary for the morphogenesis of somites.

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Department of Genetics, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland, Cleveland, OH 44106-4955, USA.


The paraxial mesoderm of the neck and trunk of mouse embryos undergoes extensive morphogenesis in forming somites. Paraxial mesoderm is divided into segments, it elongates along its anterior posterior axis, and its cells organize into epithelia. Experiments were performed to determine if these processes are autonomous to the mesoderm that gives rise to the somites. Presomitic mesoderm at the tailbud stage was cultured in the presence and absence of its adjacent tissues. Somite segmentation occurred in the absence of neural tube, notochord, gut and surface ectoderm, and occurred in posterior fragments in the absence of anterior presomitic mesoderm. Mesodermal expression of Dll1 and Notch1, genes with roles in segmentation, was largely independent of other tissues, consistent with autonomous segmentation. However, surface ectoderm was found to be necessary for elongation of the mesoderm along the anterior-posterior axis and for somite epithelialization. To determine if there is specificity in the interaction between ectoderm and mesoderm, ectoderm from different sources was recombined with presomitic mesoderm. Surface ectoderm from only certain parts of the embryo supported somite epithelialization and elongation. Somite epithelialization induced by ectoderm was correlated with expression of the basic-helix-loop-helix gene Paraxis in the mesoderm. This is consistent with the genetically defined requirement for Paraxis in somite epithelialization. However, trunk ectoderm was able to induce somite epithelialization in the absence of strong Paraxis expression. We conclude that somitogenesis consists of autonomous segmentation patterned by Notch signaling and nonautonomous induction of elongation and epithelialization by surface ectoderm.

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