Most triploblastic animals including vertebrates have a coelomic cavity that separates the outer and inner components of the body. The coelom is lined by two different tissue components, somatopleure and splanchnopleure, which are derived from the lateral plate region. Thus, the coelom is constructed as a result of a binary decision during early specification of the lateral plate. In this report we studied the molecular mechanisms of this binary decision. We first demonstrate that the splitting of the lateral plate into the two cell sheets progresses in an anteroposterior order and this progression is not coordinated with that of the somitic segmentation. By a series of embryological manipulations we found that young splanchnic mesoderm is still competent to be respecified as somatic mesoderm, and the ectoderm overlying the lateral plate is sufficient for this redirection. The lateral ectoderm is also required for maintenance of the somatic character of the mesoderm. Thus, the ectoderm plays at least two roles in the early subdivision of the lateral plate: specification and maintenance of the somatic mesoderm. We also show that the latter interactions are mediated by BMP molecules that are localized in the lateral ectoderm. Evolutionary aspects of the coelom formation are also considered.

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