• Xenopus laevis;
  • gastrula;
  • MRI;
  • longitudinal study;
  • 3D imaging;
  • morphogenesis


The amphibian embryo undergoes radical tissue transformations during blastula and gastrula stages, but live observation of internal morphogenetic events by optical microscopy is not feasible due to the opacity of the early embryo. Here, we report on the use of microscopic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to directly follow morphogenetic movements during blastula and gastrula stages of the Xenopus laevis embryo. We compare three different MRI modalities that take advantage of the intrinsic contrast present in embryonic tissues: three-dimensional (3D) fat-imaging, 3D water-imaging, and 2D high-speed high-resolution imaging of early embryonic stages. We show that the features revealed by the intrinsic contrast correlate with the histological structure of the embryo. Using this tissue specific intrinsic contrast, the main embryonic tissues and internal tissue movements as well as archenteron invagination can be differentiated without cell labeling. We present 2D and 3D time-lapse sequences of early Xenopus embryonic development, spanning the stages from early blastula to the end of gastrula, which show the complex internal rearrangements of gastrulation in essentially real-time. Developmental Dynamics 236:494–501, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.