Bones of the postcranial skeleton of higher vertebrates originate from either somitic mesoderm or somatopleural layer of the lateral plate mesoderm. Controversy surrounds the origin of the scapula, a major component of the shoulder girdle, with both somitic and lateral plate origins being proposed. Abnormal scapular development has been described in the naturally occurring undulated series of mouse mutants, which has implicated Pax1 in the formation of this bone. Here we addressed the development of the scapula, firstly, by analysing the relationship between Pax1 expression and chondrogenesis and, secondly, by determining the developmental origin of the scapula using chick quail chimeric analysis. We show the following. (1) The scapula develops in a rostral-to-caudal direction and overt chondrification is preceded by an accumulation of Pax1-expressing cells. (2) The scapular head and neck are of lateral plate mesodermal origin. (3) In contrast, the scapular blade is composed of somitic cells. (4) Unlike the Pax1-positive cells of the vertebral column, which are of sclerotomal origin, the Pax1-positive cells of the scapular blade originate from the dermomyotome. (5) Finally, we show that cells of the scapular blade are organised into spatially restricted domains along its rostrocaudal axis in the same order as the somites from which they originated. Our results imply that the scapular blade is an ossifying muscular insertion rather than an original skeletal element, and that the scapular head and neck are homologous to the ‘true coracoid’ of higher vertebrates.

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