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Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2007 Dec;81(4):241-52. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.20113.

Ingression of primary mesenchyme cells of the sea urchin embryo: a precisely timed epithelial mesenchymal transition.

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  • 1Department of Biology, French Family Science Center, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Epithelial-mesenchyme transitions (EMTs) are familiar to all scholars of development. Each animal system utilizes an EMT to produce mesenchyme cells. In vertebrates, for example, there are a number of EMTs that shape the embryo. Early, entry of epiblast cells into the primitive streak is followed by the emergence of mesoderm via an EMT process. The departure of neural crest cells from the margin of the neural folds is an EMT process, and the delamination of cells from the endomesoderm to form the supporting mesenchyme of the lung, liver, and pancreas are EMTs. EMTs are observed in Drosophila following invagination of the ventral furrow, and even in Cnidarians, which have only two germ layers, yet mesoglial and stem cells delaminate from the epithelia and occupy the matrix between the ectoderm and endoderm. This review will focus on a classic example of an EMT, which occurs in the sea urchin embryo. The primary mesenchyme cells (PMCs) ingress from the vegetal plate of this embryo precociously and in advance of archenteron invagination. Because ingression is precisely timed, the PMC lineage precisely known, and the embryo easily observed and manipulated, much has been learned about how the ingression of PMCs works in the sea urchin. Though the focus of this review is the sea urchin PMCs, there is evidence that all EMTs share many common features at both cellular and molecular levels, and many of these mechanisms are also shown to be involved in tumor progression, especially metastasizing carcinomas.

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