Somite formation involves the establishment of a segmental prepattern in the presomitic mesoderm, anteroposterior patterning of each segmental primordium and formation of boundaries between adjacent segments. How these events are co-ordinated remains uncertain. In this study, analysis of expression of zebrafish mesp-a reveals that each segment acquires anteroposterior regionalisation when located in the anterior presomitic mesoderm. Thus anteroposterior patterning is occurring after the establishment of a segmental prepattern in the paraxial mesoderm and prior to somite boundary formation. Zebrafish fss(−), bea(−), des(−) and aei(−) embryos all fail to form somites, yet we demonstrate that a segmental prepattern is established in the presomitic mesoderm of all these mutants and hox gene expression shows that overall anteroposterior patterning of the mesoderm is also normal. However, analysis of various molecular markers reveals that anteroposterior regionalisation within each segment is disturbed in the mutants. In fss(−), there is a loss of anterior segment markers, such that all segments appear posteriorized, whereas in bea(−), des(−) and aei(−), anterior and posterior markers are expressed throughout each segment. Since somite formation is disrupted in these mutants, correct anteroposterior patterning within segments may be a prerequisite for somite boundary formation. In support of this hypothesis, we show that it is possible to rescue boundary formation in fss(−) through the ectopic expression of EphA4, an anterior segment marker, in the paraxial mesoderm. These observations indicate that a key consequence of the anteroposterior regionalisation of segments may be the induction of Eph and ephrin expression at segment interfaces and that Eph/ephrin signalling subsequently contributes to the formation of somite boundaries.

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