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Development. 2002 Mar;129(5):1107-17.

Onset of the segmentation clock in the chick embryo: evidence for oscillations in the somite precursors in the primitive streak.

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Laboratoire de génétique et de physiologie du développement (LGPD), Developmental Biology Institute of Marseille (IBDM), CNRS-INSERM-Université de la méditerranée-AP de Marseille, Campus de Luminy, Case 907, 13288 Marseille Cedex 09, France.


Vertebrate somitogenesis is associated with a molecular oscillator, the segmentation clock, which is defined by the periodic expression of genes related to the Notch pathway such as hairy1 and hairy2 or lunatic fringe (referred to as the cyclic genes) in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM). Whereas earlier studies describing the periodic expression of these genes have essentially focussed on later stages of somitogenesis, we have analysed the onset of the dynamic expression of these genes during chick gastrulation until formation of the first somite. We observed that the onset of the dynamic expression of the cyclic genes in chick correlated with ingression of the paraxial mesoderm territory from the epiblast into the primitive streak. Production of the paraxial mesoderm from the primitive streak is a continuous process starting with head mesoderm formation, while the streak is still extending rostrally, followed by somitic mesoderm production when the streak begins its regression. We show that head mesoderm formation is associated with only two pulses of cyclic gene expression. Because such pulses are associated with segment production at the body level, it suggests the existence of, at most, two segments in the head mesoderm. This is in marked contrast to classical models of head segmentation that propose the existence of more than five segments. Furthermore, oscillations of the cyclic genes are seen in the rostral primitive streak, which contains stem cells from which the entire paraxial mesoderm originates. This indicates that the number of oscillations experienced by somitic cells is correlated with their position along the AP axis.

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