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Development. 1992 Dec;116(4):1087-99.

Epithelial-mesenchymal transformation during palatal fusion: carboxyfluorescein traces cells at light and electron microscopic levels.

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Harvard Medical School, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Boston, MA 02115.


During the fusion of rodent embryo palatal shelves, the cells of the outer epithelial layer slough off, allowing the cells of the medial edge basal layer to form a midline seam that undergoes epithelial-mesenchymal transformation, as judged by electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry. In this study, we analyze the fate of the transformed cells using a lipid soluble dye to label the medial edge epithelium in situ. Prefusion E14 mouse palates were exposed in vitro or in vivo to a fluoresceinated lipid soluble marker, carboxydichlorofluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester (CCFSE), which localizes in epithelia as a lipid insoluble compound that does not pass into the connective tissue compartment. The midline seam that formed after 24 hours contained labelled epithelial cells that were replaced by individually labelled mesenchymal cells where the seam transformed. By light microscopy, the labelled cells were seen to contain intensely fluorescent bodies that do not react for acid phosphatase. We were able for the first time to identify these structures by electron microscopy as CCFSE isolation bodies. The cells with isolation bodies are clearly healthy and able to participate in subsequent development of the palate. At 4 days after labelling, individual CCFSE containing cells present in the palate mesenchyme occupy both midline and lateral areas and can clearly be classified as fibroblasts by electron microscopy. CCFSE is a far more useful marker than another lipid soluble marker, DiI, for following cells, because the cells can be fixed and identified both at the light and electron microscope levels. Interestingly, if labelled palatal shelves are not allowed to fuse in vitro, the basal epithelial cells do not form mesenchyme after sloughing, indicating that formation of the epithelial midline seam is necessary to trigger its epithelial-mesenchymal transformation.

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