An ontology of human developmental anatomy

J Anat. 2003 Oct;203(4):347-55. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-7580.2003.00224.x.


Human developmental anatomy has been organized as structured lists of the major constituent tissues present during each of Carnegie stages 1-20 (E1-E50, approximately 8500 anatomically defined tissue items). For each of these stages, the tissues have been organized as a hierarchy in which an individual tissue is catalogued as part of a larger tissue. Such a formal representation of knowledge is known as an ontology and this anatomical ontology can be used in databases to store, organize and search for data associated with the tissues present at each developmental stage. The anatomical data for compiling these hierarchies comes from the literature, from observations on embryos in the Patten Collection (Ann Arbor, MI, USA) and from comparisons with mouse tissues at similar stages of development. The ontology is available in three versions. The first gives hierarchies of the named tissues present at each Carnegie stage ( and is intended to help analyse both normal and abnormal human embryos; it carries hyperlinked notes on some ambiguities in the literature that have been clarified through analysing sectioned material. The second contains many additional subsidiary tissue domains and is intended for handling tissue-associated data (e.g. gene-expression) in a database. This version is available at the humat site and at, and has been designed to be interoperable with the ontology for mouse developmental anatomy, also available at the genex site. The third gives the second version in GO ontology syntax (with standard IDs for each tissue) and can be downloaded from both the genex and the Open Biological Ontology sites (

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Embryo, Mammalian / anatomy & histology*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*