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Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2001;17:779-805.

Left-right asymmetry determination in vertebrates.

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1
Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, 240 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA. mmercola@hms.harvard.edu

Abstract

A distinctive and essential feature of the vertebrate body is a pronounced left-right asymmetry of internal organs and the central nervous system. Remarkably, the direction of left-right asymmetry is consistent among all normal individuals in a species and, for many organs, is also conserved across species, despite the normal health of individuals with mirror-image anatomy. The mechanisms that determine stereotypic left-right asymmetry have fascinated biologists for over a century. Only recently, however, has our understanding of the left-right patterning been pushed forward by links to specific genes and proteins. Here we examine the molecular biology of the three principal steps in left-right determination: breaking bilateral symmetry, propagation and reinforcement of pattern, and the translation of pattern into asymmetric organ morphogenesis.

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