A full understanding of somite development requires knowledge of the molecular genetic pathways for cell determination as well as the cellular behaviors that underlie segmentation, somite epithelialization, and somite patterning. The zebrafish has long been recognized as an ideal organism for cellular and histological studies of somite patterning. In recent years, genetics has proven to be a very powerful complementary approach to these embryological studies, as genetic screens for zebrafish mutants defective in somitogenesis have identified over 50 genes that are necessary for normal somite development. Zebrafish is thus an ideal system in which to analyze the role of specific gene products in regulating the cell behaviors that underlie somite development. We review what is currently known about zebrafish somite development and compare it where appropriate to somite development in chick and mouse. We discuss the processes of segmentation and somite epithelialization, and then review the patterning of cell types within the somite. We show directly, for the first time, that muscle cell and sclerotome migrations occur at the same time. We end with a look at the many questions about somitogenesis that are still unanswered.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.