Rathke's pouch, the epithelial primordium of the anterior pituitary, differentiates in close topographical and functional association with the ventral diencephalon. It is still not known whether the ventral diencephalon acts as the initial inducer of pituitary development. The roles of the adjacent mesenchyme and notochord, two other tissues located in close proximity to Rathke's pouch, in this process are even less clear. In this report we describe an in vitro experimental system that reproduces the earliest steps of anterior pituitary development. We provide evidence that the ventral diencephalon from 2- to 4-day-old chick embryos is able to function as an inducer of pituitary development and can convert early chick embryonic head ectoderm, which is not involved normally in pituitary development, into typical anterior pituitary tissue. This induction is contact-dependent. In our experimental system, there is a requirement for the supporting action of mesenchyme, which is independent of the mesenchyme source. Transplantation of the notochord into the lateral head region of a six-somite chick embryo induces an epithelial invagination, suggesting that the notochord induces the outpouching of the roof of the stomodeal ectoderm that results in formation of Rathke's pouch and causes the close contact between this ectoderm and the ventral diencephalon. Finally, we demonstrate that the ventral diencephalon from e9.5-e11.5 mouse embryos is also an efficient inducer of anterior pituitary differentiation in chick embryonic lateral head ectoderm, suggesting that the mechanism of anterior pituitary induction is conserved between mammals and birds, using the same, or similar, signaling pathways.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.