The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 35: 463 - 472 (1991)

Vol 35, Issue 4

Molecular and morphologic changes during the epithelial-mesenchymal transformation of palatal shelf medial edge epithelium in vitro

Published: 1 December 1991

C F Shuler, Y Guo, A Majumder and R Y Luo

University of Southern California, School of Dentistry, Los Angeles 90033.


The fate of the medial edge epithelial (MEE) cells during palatal fusion has been proposed to be either programmed cell death or epithelial-mesenchymal transformation. Vital cell labeling techniques were used to mark the MEE and observe their fate during palatal fusion in vitro. Fetal mouse palatal shelves were labeled with Dil and allowed to proceed through fusion while maintained in an organ culture system. The tissues were examined at several stages of palatal fusion for the distribution of Dil, presence of specific antigens and ultrastructural appearance of the cells. The MEE labeled with Dil occupied a midline position at all stages of palatal fusion. Initially the cells had keratin intermediate filaments and were separated from the underlying mesenchyme by an intact basement membrane. During the process of fusion the basement membrane was degraded and the Dil-labeled MEE were in contact with the mesenchymal-derived extracellular matrix. In the late stages of fusion the Dil-labeled MEE altered their cellular morphology, had vimentin intermediate filaments, and were not associated with an identifiable basement membrane. Dil-labeled cells, without an epithelial phenotype, remained present in the midline of the completely fused palate. The data indicate that the MEE did not die but underwent a phenotypic transformation to viable mesenchymal cell types, which were retained in the palatal mesenchyme.

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