• human embryo;
  • prenatal development;
  • morphogenesis;
  • 3D visualization;
  • magnetic resonance microscopy;
  • computer graphics;
  • tutorial


Morphogenesis in the developing embryo takes place in three dimensions, and in addition, the dimension of time is another important factor in development. Therefore, the presentation of sequential morphological changes occurring in the embryo (4D visualization) is essential for understanding the complex morphogenetic events and the underlying mechanisms. Until recently, 3D visualization of embryonic structures was possible only by reconstruction from serial histological sections, which was tedious and time-consuming. During the past two decades, 3D imaging techniques have made significant advances thanks to the progress in imaging and computer technologies, computer graphics, and other related techniques. Such novel tools have enabled precise visualization of the 3D topology of embryonic structures and to demonstrate spatiotemporal 4D sequences of organogenesis. Here, we describe a project in which staged human embryos are imaged by the magnetic resonance (MR) microscope, and 3D images of embryos and their organs at each developmental stage were reconstructed based on the MR data, with the aid of computer graphics techniques. On the basis of the 3D models of staged human embryos, we constructed a data set of 3D images of human embryos and made movies to illustrate the sequential process of human morphogenesis. Furthermore, a computer-based self-learning program of human embryology is being developed for educational purposes, using the photographs, histological sections, MR images, and 3D models of staged human embryos. Developmental Dynamics 235:468–477, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.