Understanding the mechanisms of muscle pattern formation requires that the complete sequence of ontogenetic events be defined, particularly in the emergence of architectural complexity and in the spatial relations between muscles and skeletal elements. This analysis of visceral arch myogenesis in quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) embryos identifies the location of premuscle condensations and subsequent segregation of individual muscles, documents the initial orientation of myofibers and changes in alignment associated with maturation, and describes the spatial and temporal relations between muscle development and the formation of connective tissues.
Premuscle condensations form within the visceral arches on embryonic days 2–4, before skeletal elements make their appearance. Discrete muscles may form from the subdivision of a muscle mass after fiber orientations have been established (e.g., jaw adductor and hyobranchial muscles) or by the segregation of a mesenchymal cluster from the condensation prior to the appearance of oriented fibers (e.g., protractor, muscle of the columella).
The rate and pattern of subsequent muscle maturation are closely associated with the development of the hard tissues. Myogenesis in 4–9-day embryos centers around the quadrate cartilage, the retroarticular process of the mandibular (Meckel's) cartilage, and the epibranchial cartilage. Muscles form attachments on these elements and remain without additional attachments until the appropriate elements (e.g., otic capsule, pterygoid bone) develop. No single description of myogenic events applies to all visceral arch muscles, nor is there an arch-specific pattern of ontogeny. Rather, each muscle has distinctive characteristics based on its spatial relations within the developing head.