Activation of myogenesis in newly formed somites is dependent upon signals derived from neighboring tissues, namely axial structures (neural tube and notochord) and dorsal ectoderm. In explants of paraxial mesoderm from mouse embryos, axial structures preferentially activate myogenesis through a Myf5-dependent pathway and dorsal ectoderm preferentially through a MyoD-dependent pathway. Here we report that cells expressing Wnt1 will preferentially activate Myf5 while cells expressing Wnt7a will preferentially activate MyoD. Wnt1 is expressed in the dorsal neural tube and Wnt7a in dorsal ectoderm in the early embryo, therefore both can potentially act in vivo to activate Myf5 and MyoD, respectively. Wnt4, Wnt5a and Wnt6 exert an intermediate effect activating both Myf5 and MyoD equivalently in paraxial mesoderm. Sonic Hedgehog synergises with both Wnt1 and Wnt7a in explants from E8.5 paraxial mesoderm but not in explants from E9.5 embryos. Signaling through different myogenic pathways may explain the rescue of muscle formation in Myf5 null embryos, which do not form an early myotome but later develop both epaxial and hypaxial musculature. Explants of unsegmented paraxial mesoderm contain myogenic precursors capable of expressing MyoD in response to signaling from a neural tube isolated from E10.5 embryos, the developmental stage when MyoD is present throughout the embryo. Myogenic cells cannot activate MyoD in response to signaling from a less mature neural tube. Together these data suggest that different Wnt molecules can activate myogenesis through different pathways such that commitment of myogenic precursors is precisely regulated in space and time to achieve the correct pattern of skeletal muscle development.

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