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Dev Biol. 2003 Jan 15;253(2):175-88.

Hensen's node gives rise to the ventral midline of the foregut: implications for organizing head and heart development.

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Neonatal-Perinatal Research Institute, Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Box 3179, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Patterning of the ventral head has been attributed to various cell populations, including endoderm, mesoderm, and neural crest. Here, we provide evidence that head and heart development may be influenced by a ventral midline endodermal cell population. We show that the ventral midline endoderm of the foregut is generated directly from the extreme rostral portion of Hensen's node, the avian equivalent of the Spemann organizer. The endodermal cells extend caudally in the ventral midline from the prechordal plate during development of the foregut pocket. Thus, the prechordal plate appears as a mesendodermal pivot between the notochord and the ventral foregut midline. The elongating ventral midline endoderm delimits the right and left sides of the ventral foregut endoderm. Cells derived from the midline endoderm are incorporated into the endocardium and myocardium during closure of the foregut pocket and fusion of the bilateral heart primordia. Bilateral ablation of the endoderm flanking the midline at the level of the anterior intestinal portal leads to randomization of heart looping, suggesting that this endoderm is partitioned into right and left domains by the midline endoderm, thus performing a function similar to that of the notochord in maintaining left-right asymmetry. Because of its derivation from the dorsal organizer, its extent from the forebrain through the midline of the developing face and pharynx, and its participation in formation of a single midline heart tube, we propose that the ventral midline endoderm is ideally situated to function as a ventral organizer of the head and heart.

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