The role of the notochord in vertebral column formation

J Anat. Jul-Aug 2001;199(Pt 1-2):177-80. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-7580.2001.19910177.x.


The backbone or vertebral column is the defining feature of vertebrates and is clearly metameric. Given that vertebrae arise from segmented paraxial mesoderm in the embryo, this metamerism is not surprising. Fate mapping studies in a variety of species have shown that ventromedial sclerotome cells of the differentiated somite contribute to the developing vertebrae and ribs. Nevertheless, extensive studies in amniote embryos have produced conflicting data on exactly how embryonic segments relate to those of the adult. To date, much attention has focused on the derivatives of the somites, while relatively little is known about the contribution of other tissues to the formation of the vertebral column. In particular, while it is clear that signals from the notochord induce and maintain proliferation of the sclerotome, and later promote chondrogenesis, the role of the notochord in vertebral segmentation has been largely overlooked. Here, we review the established role of the notochord in vertebral development, and suggest an additional role for the notochord in the segmental patterning of the vertebral column.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Chondrogenesis / physiology
  • Morphogenesis / physiology
  • Notochord / physiology*
  • Somites / physiology
  • Spine / embryology*
  • Vertebrates / embryology*