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Ciba Found Symp. 1989;144:113-24; discussion 124-30, 150-5.

Factors specifying cell lineages in the leech.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


As in arthropods, several major organ systems in leeches, including body musculature, nervous system and nephridia, are organized into a fixed number of longitudinally iterated units called segments. Many cells, especially neurons, can be uniquely identified from segment to segment. Leech embryos comprise identified cells, which facilitates developmental analysis. So far as it is known, cell lineages in leech are largely determinate. Prior to first cleavage, cytoplasmic reorganization generates domains of yolk-deficient cytoplasm called teloplasm. In situ hybridization experiments suggest that teloplasm is enriched for polyadenylated RNAs. During the first three, unequal cell divisions, teloplasm is segregated to macromere D'; normally, this cell alone cleaves further to generate five bilateral pairs of embryonic stem cells, M, N, O/P and Q teloblasts. Centrifugation experiments have shown a causal link between inheritance of teloplasm and the cleavage pattern that generates teloblasts. Teloblasts undergo highly unequal divisions, generating a longitudinal array of segmental founder cells called m, n, o, p and q blast cells, from which the definitive segmental tissues arise via further stereotyped cell divisions. Microinjecting new-born teloblasts or their precursors with polyadenylic acid induces the formation of supernumerary teloblasts. This discovery permits further analyses of factors specifying the five cell lines generating segmental tissues of the leech.

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