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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The chick somitogenesis oscillator is arrested before all paraxial mesoderm is segmented into somites

Gennady Tenin1, David Wright1, Zoltan Ferjentsik1, Robert Bone1, Michael J McGrew2 and Miguel Maroto1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Cell and Developmental Biology, College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dow Street, Dundee, UK

2 The Roslin Institute and Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, UK

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:24  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-24

Published: 25 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Somitogenesis is the earliest sign of segmentation in the developing vertebrate embryo. This process starts very early, soon after gastrulation has initiated and proceeds in an anterior-to-posterior direction during body axis elongation. It is widely accepted that somitogenesis is controlled by a molecular oscillator with the same periodicity as somite formation. This periodic mechanism is repeated a specific number of times until the embryo acquires a defined specie-specific final number of somites at the end of the process of axis elongation. This final number of somites varies widely between vertebrate species. How termination of the process of somitogenesis is determined is still unknown.

Results

Here we show that during development there is an imbalance between the speed of somite formation and growth of the presomitic mesoderm (PSM)/tail bud. This decrease in the PSM size of the chick embryo is not due to an acceleration of the speed of somite formation because it remains constant until the last stages of somitogenesis, when it slows down. When the chick embryo reaches its final number of somites at stage HH 24-25 there is still some remaining unsegmented PSM in which expression of components of the somitogenesis oscillator is no longer dynamic. Finally, we identify a change in expression of retinoic acid regulating factors in the tail bud at late stages of somitogenesis, such that in the chick embryo there is a pronounced onset of Raldh2 expression while in the mouse embryo the expression of the RA inhibitor Cyp26A1 is downregulated.

Conclusions

Our results show that the chick somitogenesis oscillator is arrested before all paraxial mesoderm is segmented into somites. In addition, endogenous retinoic acid is probably also involved in the termination of the process of segmentation, and in tail growth in general.