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Bioessays. 2009 Aug;31(8):892-902. doi: 10.1002/bies.200900038.

The enigmatic primitive streak: prevailing notions and challenges concerning the body axis of mammals.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Medicine and Public Health, 1300 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


The primitive streak establishes the antero-posterior body axis in all amniote species. It is thought to be the conduit through which mesoderm and endoderm progenitors ingress and migrate to their ultimate destinations. Despite its importance, the streak remains poorly defined and one of the most enigmatic structures of the animal kingdom. In particular, the posterior end of the primitive streak has not been satisfactorily identified in any species. Unexpectedly, and contrary to prevailing notions, recent evidence suggests that the murine posterior primitive streak extends beyond the embryo proper. In its extraembryonic site, the streak creates a node-like cell reservoir from which the allantois, a universal caudal appendage of all amniotes and the future umbilical cord of placental mammals, emerges. This new insight into the fetal/umbilical relationship may explain the etiology of a large number of umbilical-associated birth defects, many of which are correlated with abnormalities of the embryonic midline.

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