Neural tube closure (NTC) is a fundamental process during vertebrate development and is indispensable for the formation of the central nervous system. Here, using Xenopus laevis embryos, live imaging, single-cell tracking, optogenetics and loss of function experiments we examine the roles of convergent extension and apical constriction, and define the role of the surface ectoderm during NTC. We show that NTC is a two-stage process with distinct spatiotemporal contributions of convergent extension and apical constriction at each stage. Convergent extension takes place during the first stage and is spatially restricted at the posterior tissue, while apical constriction occurs during the second stage throughout the neural plate. We go on to show that the surface ectoderm is mechanically coupled with the neural plate and its movement during NTC is driven by neural plate morphogenesis. Last, we show that increase of surface ectoderm resistive forces is detrimental for neural plate morphogenesis.

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