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Mech Dev. 2004 Sep;121(9):1081-8.

Segmentation and compartition in the early avian hindbrain.

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MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College London, Guy's Hospital Campus, London SE1 1UL, UK.


For the comparative embryologists of the early 20th century, the segment-like bulges that appear transiently during the early stages of vertebrate hindbrain development were both the object of fascination and the subject of vigorous dispute. Conflicting views were held as to the significance of these 'rhombomeres' to brain development and their more general relevance to head evolution. Whether rhombomeres are inconsequential bumps in the embryonic brain or true segments-iterative or metameric units-has only recently been resolved. A number of studies using more modern techniques (such as immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridisation, axonal tracing, single cell labelling, heterotopic and orthotopic grafting, and the manipulation of gene expression by electroporation) have shown that the hindbrain has a truly metameric cellular organisation. The avian embryo has played a particularly prominent role in such studies by virtue of its large size and accessibility, its amenability to microsurgery, and its well-described anatomy. Furthermore, electrophysiological studies, also on avian embryos, have shown that segmentation of the parent neuroepithelium into rhombomeres plays a crucial part in establishing the functional organization of the hindbrain. Segmentation suggests the early allocation of defined sets of precursor cells and is therefore presumed to allow a specific identity for each successive segment to emerge from a common ground plan. This short review will focus on the contribution the avian embryo has made to our understanding of this fly-like region of the vertebrate brain, in respect of its morphology and neuronal architecture, the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in establishing and maintaining the segments, and the molecular controls of segmental identity.

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