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Med Electron Microsc. 1999 Sep;32(2):67-78.

New advances in human embryology: morphofunctional relationship between the embryo and the yolk sac.

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Laboratorio de EmbriologĂ­a Humana, Facultad de Ciencias MĂ©dicas, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Casilla 442, Correo 2, Santiago, Chile.


Organogenesis occurs during the first 8 weeks of human embryonic development; in consequence, early human growth and development take place before and in the absence of fully developed internal organs. During this period, normal development depends on several factors, but two are imperative: nutrition and a functional transport system for the distribution of nutrients and for waste disposal. The yolk sac (YS), a highly differentiated adnexal organ, is known to accomplish this fundamental task during early pregnancy. In this review, we summarize our contribution to the understanding of early human embryology, focusing interest on analysis of the morphofunctional link that is established between the human embryo and the YS during the embryonic period. Embryos were collected from the gestational sac after salpingectomies performed on patients with singleton pregnancies occurring in the fallopian tube. Samples of YS were taken from 20 human embryos at Carnegie stages ranging from 12 to 20. The age of the embryo was estimated from data of the patient's last menstrual history and confirmed from crown-rump length measurements and morphological characteristics of the specimen. The samples were fixed in 3% glutaraldehyde and then postfixed in 2% osmium tetroxide and prepared for light, transmission, and scanning electron microscopy according to conventional techniques. The samples were examined with a Philips 301 EM and an S-4000 Hitachi field emission SEM. The yolk stalk, and the YS wall with its corresponding endodermal, mesenchymal, and mesothelial layers, were analyzed. In accordance with their morphological features, the endodermal cells are equipped with organelles to fulfill several functions that are expressed in absorption from the vitelline cavity via microvilli present into the outer cell surface, in secretion to the extracellular space, and in the synthesis of numerous proteins which are transported by the bloodstream to the embryo. The mesothelial surface is provided with cell-surface differentiation that promotes a protective coat to prevent damage from compression or friction of the YS wall against the amnios, umbilical cord, and chorionic cavity wall during growth. The mesenchyme is the main site for blood vessel formation and gives rise to a network that provides the embryo with nutrients and a means of waste disposal. A critical analysis of the role of the endodermal vesicle in the production of fluid that is accumulated in the YS, and of the role that the vitelline duct play in the exchange function between the YS and intestinal tract, is presented. We have demonstrated that the vitelline duct is not functional after week 5 because of the closure of its lumen. This finding is discussed with reference to the biological meaning of the vitelline duct and its functional period of activity, and its possible role in the physiology of exchange during the embryonic period is assessed.

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