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Anat Embryol (Berl). 2005 Aug;210(1):51-7. Epub 2005 Jul 21.

The morphogenesis of the exstrophy-epispadias complex: a new concept based on observations made in early embryonic cases of cloacal exstrophy.

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Abteilung Anatomie/Embryologie, Georg-August-Universität zu Göttingen, Kreuzbergring 36, 37075, Göttingen, Germany.



The term exstrophy-epispadias complex (EEC) has been coined for a group of congenital malformations that includes epispadias, bladder exstrophy and cloacal exstrophy. It is usually thought that these malformations develop against a similar embryological background. This background, however, is still obscure. This is mainly due to the lack of availability of abnormal human or non-human embryos showing the crucial developmental steps in the morphogenesis of EEC malformations. In this paper, we present chick embryos that show cloacal exstrophy at early developmental stages. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first documentation of this rare malformation in young embryos.


Embryos with cloacal exstrophy (n=4) were found among embryos from two experimental series (n=50) that were primarily performed to document the early morphogenesis of facial and cardiovascular malformations. The malformations were induced by the administration of suramin according to established protocols. Suramin can induce a spectrum of malformations including facial clefts, heart defects, and cloacal exstrophy.


Besides the presence of an abnormal opening into the cloaca, all embryos were characterised by an abnormal broadening of the caudal trunk at the level of the leg buds, which, in the youngest embryos, was associated with the abnormal presence of large aneurysmatic swellings of the dorsal aortae at this side. We postulate that these aneurysmatic swellings might be the primary defects leading to the development of EEC malformations. These space-occupying anomalies seem to cause abnormal distensions of the developing pelvis and of the infra-umbilical portion of the developing body wall. In consequence, the mid-portion of the developing ventral body wall between the origin of the umbilical cord and the cloacal plate becomes stretched and thinned out. Tension and thinning of the ventral body wall might ultimately lead to its rupture with exposure of the lumen of the embryonic cloaca and allantois. This new concept on the morphogenesis of the EEC is the first not to be inferred from the conditions seen in fetal or postnatal human cases but is based entirely on data from malformed embryos.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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