The development of the notochord in the chick is traditionally associated with Hensen's node (the avian equivalent of the organizer). However, recent evidence has shown that two areas outside the node (called the inducer and responder) are capable of interacting after ablation of Hensen's node to form a notochord. It was not clear from these studies what effect (if any) signals from these areas had on normal notochord formation. A third area, the postnodal region, may also contribute to notochord formation, although this has also been questioned. Using transection and grafting experiments, we have evaluated the timing and cellular interactions involved in notochord induction and formation in the chick embryo. Our results indicate that the rostral primitive streak, including the node, is not required for formation of the notochord in rostral blastoderm isolates transected at stages 3a/b. In addition, neither the postnodal region nor the inducer is required for the induction and formation of the most rostral notochordal cells. However, inclusion of the inducer results in considerable elongation of the notochord in this experimental paradigm. Our results also demonstrate that the responder per se is not required for notochord formation, provided that at least the inducer and postnodal region are present, although in the absence of the responder, formation of the notochord occurs far less frequently. We also show that the node is not specified to form notochord until stage 4 and concomitant with this, the inducer loses its ability to induce notochord from the responder. The coincident timing of these changes in the node and inducer suggests that notochord specification and the activity of the inducer are regulated through a negative feedback loop. We propose a model relating our results to the induction of head and trunk organizer activity in the node.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.