The establishment of a somitomeric pattern in the mesoderm of the gastrulating mouse embryo



Mesoderm formation in the mouse embryo begins at 6.5–6.75 days p.c. (postcoitum) when a primitive streak is formed along the posterior side of the egg cylinder. Epiblast cells in a localized region separate from one another and spread laterally between the primitive endoderm and the rest of the epiblast. The newly formed mesoderm contributes to both embryonic and extraembryonic regions. When the endoderm is removed, a definitive somitomeric pattern is first observed in the lateral wings of mesoderm of the mid-primitive-streak-stage embryo. The sequential appearance and the placement of somitomeres in the gastrulating mouse embryo are closely related to the general changes in physical dimensions and to the pattern of tissue growth which occur during the maturation of the egg cylinder. By the late-primitive-streak stage, about four somitomeres are present in the paraxial mesoderm on either side of the embryonic axis. These somitomeres will undergo morphogenesis and give rise to the cranial segments and head mesenchyme of neurulating embryos (Meier and Tam, 1982). The midline or axial mesoderm, consisting of prechordal plate and notochord, is derived from the head process mesoderm originating from the anterior end of the primitive streak. Cells of the head process are compact and adherent to the endoderm. The early presence of a somitomeric pattern which persists and is added to throughout subsequent phases of mesoderm formation suggests that spreading mesodermal cells have relatively stable neighbor relationships. This morphological evidence supports the idea that the expansion of the mesoderm during gastrulation results from tissue growth and progressive deposition of cells from the primitive streak. Cell migration may be limited principally to nonsomitomeric mesodermal cells found in the leading edge of the spreading lateral wings.