We have investigated whether the neuromeres of the developing chick spinal cord (myelomeres) are manifestations of intrinsic segmentation of the CNS by studying the patterns of cell proliferation and neuronal differentiation. Treatment of 2-day embryos with colchicine does produce exaggerated myelomeres, in confirmation of Kallen (Z. Anat. Entwickl.-Gesch. 123, 309–319, 1962). However, this does not imply that myelomeres are segmental proliferation centres: the undulations caused by colchicine are irregular alongside the unsegmented mesoderm, and another mitotic inhibitor, bromodeoxyuridine, has no such effects. In contrast to lower vertebrate embryos, there is no evidence for segmental groups of primary motor neurons in the chick: the earliest motor neurons express cholinesterase, and project their axons into the adjacent sclerotome, at random positions in relation to the somite boundaries. The population of motor neurons projecting HRP-labelled axons into a single somite lies out of phase with both myelomere and somite, and is placed symmetrically about the anterior half-sclerotome. The earliest intrinsic spinal cord neurons, as stained with zinc iodide-osmium tetroxide or anti-68 × Mr neurofilament antibody, show no segmental patterns of differentiation. We conclude that, in contrast to the rhombomeres of the developing hindbrain, myelomeres are not matched by segmental groupings of differentiating nerve cells, and result from mechanical moulding of the neuroepithelium by the neighbouring somites.

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