Somites are mesodermal structures which appear transiently in vertebrates in the course of their development. Cells situated ventromedially in a somite differentiate into the sclerotome, which gives rise to cartilage, while the other part of the somite differentiates into dermomyotome which gives rise to muscle and dermis. The sclerotome is further divided into a rostral half, where neural crest cells settle and motor nerves grow, and a caudal half. To find out when these axes are determined and how they rule later development, especially the morphogenesis of cartilage derived from the somites, we transplanted the newly formed three caudal somites of 2.5-day-old quail embryos into chick embryos of about the same age, with reversal of some axes. The results were summarized as follows. (1) When transplantation reversed only the dorsoventral axis, one day after the operation the two caudal somites gave rise to normal dermomyotomes and sclerotomes, while the most rostral somite gave rise to a sclerotome abnormally situated just beneath ectoderm. These results suggest that the dorsoventral axis was not determined when the somites were formed, but began to be determined about three hours after their formation. (2) When the transplantation reversed only the rostrocaudal axis, two days after the operation the rudiments of dorsal root ganglia were formed at the caudal (originally rostral) halves of the transplanted sclerotomes. The rostrocaudal axis of the somites had therefore been determined when the somites were formed. (3) When the transplantation reversed both the dorsoventral and the rostrocaudal axes, two days after the operation, sclerotomes derived from the prospective dermomyotomal region of the somites were shown to keep their original rostrocaudal axis, judging from the position of the rudiments of ganglia. Combined with results 1 and 2, this suggested that the fate of the sclerotomal cells along the rostrocaudal axis was determined previously and independently of the determination of somite cell differentiation into dermomyotome and sclerotome. (4) In the 9.5-day-old chimeric embryos with rostrocaudally reversed somites, the morphology of vertebrae and ribs derived from the explanted somites were reversed along the rostrocaudal axis. The morphology of cartilage derived from the somites was shown to be determined intrinsically in the somites by the time these were formed from the segmental plate. The rostrocaudal pattern of the vertebral column is therefore controlled by factors intrinsic to the somitic mesoderm, and not by interactions between this mesoderm and the notochord and/or neural tube, arising after segmentation.

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