The most profound feature of the mature vertebrate somite is its organisation into dorsal dermomyotome, intermediate myotome and ventral sclerotome. We analysed the role of potential signalling structures in this dorsoventral pattern by ablating them or transplanting them to ectopic locations in chick embryos. Our data suggest that the somite represents a naive tissue, entirely depending on external cues for its dorsoventral organisation. Dorsalisation by signals from dorsal neural tube and surface ectoderm stimulates the development of the dermomyotome. Likewise, signals from notochord and floor plate ventralise the somite, at high levels overriding any dorsal information and inducing the sclerotome. The dorsalising factors and lower levels of the ventralising factors act in concert to induce the myotome. Finally, the paraxial mesoderm intrinsically controls its competence to respond to the external inducers.

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