The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 53: 1421 - 1426 (2009)

Vol 53, Issue 8-9-10

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Hispania (Spain & Portugal)

Portuguese contributions to the discovery and characterization of the embryonic molecular clock

Published: 1 November 2009

Susana Pascoal and Isabel Palmeirim*

Life and Health Sciences Research Institute (ICVS), School of Health Sciences, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal


Embryonic development is strictly regulated both in time and in space. This extraordinary control is clearly evidenced during the process of somitogenesis. In this process, pairs of somites are formed periodically, such that the time required to form a new somite pair is constant and species specific. The tight temporal control underlying somitogenesis has been shown to depend upon a molecular clock, manifested by the cyclic expression of an increasing number of genes in the unsegmented paraxial mesoderm. Portuguese researchers have been intimately connected to the achievements that have been made in this new field of research: the somitogenesis molecular clock. This article intends to report the Portuguese contributions to the discovery and characterization of the molecular clock underlying somite formation and possibly other embryonic processes. This work inspired many scientists around the world and it has been followed in Portugal by teams that keep on pursuing the characterization of the machinery of this molecular oscillator and its function in the acquisition of both temporal and positional information during development.


somitogenesis, temporal control, limb bud, positional information, L-R asymmetry

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