• endoderm;
  • parathyroid;
  • pharyngeal arches;
  • pouches;
  • vertebrate evolution


The oro-pharyngeal apparatus has its origin in a series of bulges found on the lateral surface of the embryonic head, the pharyngeal arches. Significantly, the development of these structures is extremely complex, involving interactions between a number of disparate embryonic cell types: ectoderm, endoderm, mesoderm and neural crest, each of which generates particular components of the arches, and whose development must be co-ordinated to generate the functional adult oro-pharyngeal apparatus. In the past most studies have emphasized the role played by the neural crest, which generates the skeletal elements of the arches, in directing pharyngeal arch development. However, it is now apparent that the pharyngeal endoderm plays an important role in directing arch development. Here we discuss the role of the pharyngeal endoderm in organizing the development of the pharyngeal arches, and the mechanisms that act to pattern the endoderm itself and those which direct its morphogenesis. Finally, we discuss the importance of modification to the pharyngeal endoderm during vertebrate evolution. In particular, we focus on the emergence of the parathyroid gland, which we have recently shown to be the result of the internalization of the gills.