Formation of paraxial muscles in vertebrate embryos depends upon interactions between early somites and the neural tube and notochord. Removal of both axial structures results in a complete loss of epaxial myotomal muscle, whereas hypaxial and limb muscles develop normally. We report that chicken embryos, after surgical removal of the neural tube at the level of the unsegmented paraxial mesoderm, start to develop myotomal cells that express transcripts for the muscle-specific regulators MyoD and myogenin. These cells also make desmin, indicating that the initial steps of axial skeletal muscle formation can occur in the absence of the neural tube. However, a few days following the extirpation, the expression of MyoD and myogenin transcripts gradually disappears, and becomes almost undetectable after 4 days. From these observations we conclude that the neural tube is not required for the generation of the skeletal muscle cell lineage, but may support the survival or maitenance of further differentiation of the myotomal cell compartment. Notochord transplanted medially or laterally to the unsegmented paraxial mesoderm leads to a ventralization of axial structures but does not entirely prevent the early appearance of myoblasts expressing MyoD transcripts. However, the additional notochord inhibits subsequent development and maturation of myotomes. Taken together, our data suggest that neural tube promotes, and notochord inhibits, the process of myogenesis in axial muscles at a developmental step following the initial expression of myogenic bHLH regulators.

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