It is well established that hemopoietic cells arising from the yolk sac invade the avian embryo. To study the fate and role of these cells during the first 2.5-4.5 days of incubation, we constructed yolk sac chimeras (a chick embryo grafted on a quail yolk sac and vice versa) and immunostained them with antibodies specific to cells of quail hemangioblastic lineage (MB1 and QH1). This approach revealed that endothelial cells of the embryonic vessels are of intraembryonic origin. In contrast, numerous hemopoietic cells of yolk sac origin were seen in embryos ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 days of incubation. These cells were already present within the vessels and in the mesenchyme at the earliest developmental stages analyzed. Two hemopoietic cell types of yolk sac origin were distinguishable, undifferentiated cells and macrophage-like cells. The number of the latter cells increased progressively as development proceeded, and they showed marked acid phosphatase activity and phagocytic capacity, as revealed by the presence of numerous phagocytic inclusions in their cytoplasm. The macrophage-like cells were mostly distributed in the mesenchyme and also appeared within some organ primordia such as the neural tube, the liver anlage and the nephric rudiment. Comparison of the results in the two types of chimeras and the findings obtained with acid phosphatase/MB1 double labelling showed that some hemopoietic macrophage-like cells of intraembryonic origin were also present at the stages considered. These results support the existence in the early avian embryo of a phagocytic cell system of blood cell lineage, derived chiefly from the yolk sac. Cells belonging to this system perform phagocytosis in cell death and may also be involved in other morphogenetic processes.

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