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Dev Biol. 1984 Apr;102(2):309-23.

Morphogenesis of the cranial segments and distribution of neural crest in the embryos of the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina.


Recent studies of the heads of vertebrates have shown a primitive pattern of segmentation in the mesoderm and neural plate not previously recognized. The role of this pattern in the subsequent distribution of cranial crest and the development of branchial arches and cranial nerves, may resolve century-old arguments about the evolution of vertebrate segmentation. In this study, we examine the early embryonic development of the cranium of a primitive amniote, the snapping turtle, with the SEM. We show that the paraxial mesoderm cranial to the first-formed somites is segmented and that this pattern is based on somitomeres, similar to those described in the embryos of chick and mouse. Seven contiguous pairs of somitomeres comprise the "head mesoderm"; the first pair of somites actually arise from the eighth pair of somitomeres added to the axis. Cranial somitomeres are associated with specific brain regions, in that the first pair lie adjacent to prosencephalon, the second and third pair are adjacent to the mesencephalon, and the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh pair of somitomeres lie adjacent to individual neuromeres of the rhombencephalon. Prior to the closure of the anterior neuropore, cranial neural crest cells first emerge from the mesencephalon and migrate onto the second and third somitomeres. Shortly thereafter, neural crest cells emerge at more caudal levels of the rhombencephalon, beginning at the juncture of the fifth and sixth somitomeres. Eventually, neural crest originating from the mesencephalon spreads caudally as far as the fourth somitomere, leaving a gap in crest emigration adjacent to the fifth somitomere. The otic placode develops from the surface ectoderm covering the sixth and seventh somitomeres, and the adjacent rhombencephalic neural crest moves around the cranial and caudal edge of the placode. At more caudal levels, rhombencephalic crest cells merge with cervical crest populations to form a continuous sheet over the somites. By the time the anterior neuropore closes, some of the mesencephalic crest cells return from the paraxial mesoderm to spread onto the rostral wall of the optic vesicle and future telencephalon. The segmentation of the mesoderm and patterned distribution of cranial neural crest seen in snapping turtle embryos, further strengthens the argument that the heads of amniotes are derived from a common metameric pattern established early during gastrulation.

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