Palatal fusion - where do the midline cells go? A review on cleft palate, a major human birth defect

Acta Histochem. 2007;109(1):1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.acthis.2006.05.009. Epub 2006 Sep 7.


Formation of the palate, the organ that separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity, is a developmental process characteristic to embryos of higher vertebrates. Failure in this process results in palatal cleft. During the final steps of palatogenesis, two palatal shelves outgrowing from the sides of the embryonic oronasal cavity elevate above the tongue, meet in the midline, and rapidly fuse together. Over the decades, multiple mechanisms have been proposed to explain how the superficial mucous membranes disappear from the contact line, thus allowing for normal midline mesenchymal confluence. A substantial body of experimental evidence exists for cell death, cell migration, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transdifferentiation (EMT), replacement through new tissue intercalation, and other mechanisms. However, the most recent use of gene recombination techniques in cell fate tracking disfavors the EMT concept, and suggests that apoptosis is the major fate of the midline cells during physiological palatal fusion. This article summarizes the benefits and drawbacks of histochemical and molecular tools used to determine the fates of cells within the palatal midline. Mechanisms of normal disintegration of the midline epithelial seam are reviewed together with pathologic processes that prevent this disintegration, thus causing cleft palate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cleft Palate / embryology*
  • Cleft Palate / pathology
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm
  • Mice
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Palate / embryology*
  • Palate / ultrastructure


  • Biomarkers