This study investigates the differentiative abilities of avian brachial somites at stages of development before, during and after the migration of somitic cells into the wing primordium. These somites are the source of cells that migrate into the forelimbs and there give rise exclusively, and totally, to the skeletal muscle lineage of the wing and yet show no morphological evidence of commitment to that fate when they leave the somites. The aim of the study was to see if the brachial somitic cells are committed to particular developmental pathways at these stages. The brachial somites were isolated from HH stage-12, -15 and -18 chick embryos, either by microdissection or enzymatic dissociation, and grown in organ culture, in explant culture on different substrata or on the chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) of host chicks, either alone or in combination with adjacent tissues. Myogenesis and chondrogenesis occurred in all stage-18 enzymatically separated somites, regardless of the growth environment. Myogenesis was reduced in stage-15 somites and unobservable in stage-12 somites; however, recombination of stage-12 somites with epithelium or neural tube increased the incidence of myogenesis at this stage. The incidence of chondrogenesis was also less in the younger explants. Unlike its effect on myogenic expression, recombination with epithelium resulted in a dramatic decrease in chondrogenesis in both stage-12 and -15 somites. The recombination experiments suggest that conditions that maintain the normal spatial relationships within isolated somites permit expression of a preexisting specification to a particular fate. They also show that the overlying epithelium can inhibit chondrogenesis in these somites. Overall, the results suggest that by the time migration of somitic cells into wing regions is finishing, brachial somitic cells have become stabilized in their ability to undergo both myogenesis and chondrogenesis for they will do so under a variety of growth conditions and independently of adjacent tissues. However, immediately before (stage 12) and shortly after (stage 15) the onset of migration, both myogenic and chondrogenic expression by brachial somitic cells are still under the influence of interactions with adjacent tissues.

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