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Dev Biol. 2004 Apr 1;268(1):111-22.

Extracellular matrix dynamics during vertebrate axis formation.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.


The first evidence for the dynamics of in vivo extracellular matrix (ECM) pattern formation during embryogenesis is presented below. Fibrillin 2 filaments were tracked for 12 h throughout the avian intraembryonic mesoderm using automated light microscopy and algorithms of our design. The data show that these ECM filaments have a reproducible morphogenic destiny that is characterized by directed transport. Fibrillin 2 particles initially deposited in the segmental plate mesoderm are translocated along an unexpected trajectory where they eventually polymerize into an intricate scaffold of cables parallel to the anterior-posterior axis. The cables coalesce near the midline before the appearance of the next-formed somite. Moreover, the ECM filaments define global tissue movements with high precision because the filaments act as passive motion tracers. Quantification of individual and collective filament "behaviors" establish fate maps, trajectories, and velocities. These data reveal a caudally propagating traveling wave pattern in the morphogenetic movements of early axis formation. We conjecture that within vertebrate embryos, long-range mechanical tension fields are coupled to both large-scale patterning and local organization of the ECM. Thus, physical forces or stress fields are essential requirements for executing an emergent developmental pattern-in this case, paraxial fibrillin cable assembly.

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