The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 35: 345 - 352 (1991)

Vol 35, Issue 3

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Yugoslavia

Development of the notochord in normal and malformed human embryos and fetuses

Published: 1 September 1991

M S Babic

Department of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Zagreb, Republic of Croatia, Yugoslavia.


In view of its possible involvement in early embryogenesis and teratogenesis, the developmental characteristics of the human notochord were studied by light and electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry on 20 human conceptuses (5th-22nd week). At the earliest embryonic stages examined, the notochord is closely related to both the pharyngeal endoderm and the neuroectoderm of the posterior (tail) end of the neural tube. In both regions the interspace is bridged by slender cytoplasmic processes, lined with basal lamina and filled with amorphous extracellular material containing collagen types III and IV and laminin. The notochordal cells express cytokeratin brightly and vimentin weakly. As embryonic age progresses, the notochord gradually separates from the epithelia, becomes the axis of developing spinal column and undergoes progressive cell degeneration and rearrangement within the vertebral bodies. This is associated with extensive production of extracellular material and the first appearance of fibronectin. Intracellularly, the expression of vimentin gradually increases, while that of cytokeratin slightly weakens. Changes in the notochord parallel other developmental events in axial organs. In anencephalic fetuses the course of the notochord is irregular and partly interrupted with segments outside the basichondrocranium in specimens with craniorachischisis.

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