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Dev Dyn. 1996 Apr;205(4):471-85.

Cell proliferation in mammalian gastrulation: the ventral node and notochord are relatively quiescent.

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Department of Child Health, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, United Kingdom.


During gastrulation, the node of the mammalian embryo appears to be an organising centre, homologous to Hensen's node in the chick and the dorsal lip of the amphibian blastopore. In addition, the node serves as a precursor population for the head process, notochord and foregut endoderm. We have studied node architecture and cell morphology by electron microscopy, and cell proliferation using bromodeoxyuridine incorporation and mitotic counts. The dorsal (ectodermal) and ventral (endodermal) components of the node are two distinct populations, separated by a basement membrane. The ventral node, contiguous with the head process, is characterised by a relatively low proliferation rate, with only approximately 10% of cells incorporating BrdU over 4 hr, compared to > 95% in surrounding mesodermal and ectodermal tissues. This is the case from the beginning of node formation, at the no-allantoic-bud stage, until the 7 somite stage, and is not compatible with the idea that the ventral node is a stem cell population. The dorsal node is highly proliferative, its rate of division being indistinguishable from the neurectoderm, with which it is contiguous. In the ventral node, two regions can be recognised: cells in the "pit" are columnar and all monociliated; around them lies a "crown" of cells arranged radially in a horseshoe shape and less often ciliated. Node derivatives share common features with the ventral node; the head process and the notochord are relatively quiescent; and some head process cells are also monociliated. Node and head process monocilia are immotile and appear to be associated with non-proliferation. We suggest that the ventral node contains all the properties of the organiser, while the dorsal node is indistinct from the surrounding epiblast. The cranial end of the foregut pouch, the thyroid diverticulum, and the promyocardium of early somite stage embryos are also areas of low cell division. All the described regions of relative quiescence are sites of expression of members of the TGF beta family, which may be involved in maintaining non-proliferation.

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