The body-plan of vertebrates, while exteriorly essentially symmetric along its medio-lateral plane, displays numerous left-right differences in the disposition and placement of internal organs. Such left-right asymmetries, established during embryogenesis, are controlled by complex epigenetic and genetic cascades that impart laterality information to the different embryo structures and organ primordia. A key and evolutionarily conserved feature of these information cascades among vertebrate embryos is the left-sided transfer of information from the node to the lateral plate mesoderm during early somitogenesis stages. We review here recent evidence concerning the mechanisms that regulate the laterality of such transfer. Furthermore, we propose a model of left-right axis specification that underscores the role of the node as an integrator of laterality information and the evolutionary conservation of the mechanisms that convey such information to and from the node.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.