• primitive streak;
  • epithelial to mesenchymal transition;
  • gastrulation;
  • mouse embryo;
  • morphogenesis


Background: During gastrulation, an embryo acquires the three primordial germ layers that will give rise to all of the tissues in the body. In amniote embryos, this process occurs via an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) of epiblast cells at the primitive streak. Although the primitive streak is vital to development, many aspects of how it forms and functions remain poorly understood. Results: Using live, 4 dimensional imaging and immunohistochemistry, we have shown that the posterior epiblast of the pre-streak murine embryo does not display convergence and extension behavior or large scale migration or rearrangement of a cell population. Instead, the primitive streak develops in situ and elongates by progressive initiation EMT in the posterior epiblast. Loss of basal lamina (BL) is the first step of this EMT, and is strictly correlated with ingression of nascent mesoderm. Once the BL is lost in a given region, cells leave the epiblast by apical constriction in order to enter the primitive streak. Conclusions: This is the first description of dynamic cell behavior during primitive streak formation in the mouse embryo, and reveals mechanisms that are quite distinct from those observed in other amniote model systems. Unlike chick and rabbit, the murine primitive streak arises in situ by progressive initiation of EMT beginning in the posterior epiblast, without large-scale movement or convergence and extension of epiblast cells. Developmental Dynamics 241:270–283, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.