Axial differentiation and early gastrulation stages of the pig embryo

Differentiation. 2009 Dec;78(5):301-11. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2009.07.006. Epub 2009 Aug 15.


Differentiation of the principal body axes in the early vertebrate embryo is based on a specific blueprint of gene expression and a series of transient axial structures such as Hensen's node and the notochord of the late gastrulation phase. Prior to gastrulation, the anterior visceral endoderm (AVE) of the mouse egg-cylinder or the anterior marginal crescent (AMC) of the rabbit embryonic disc marks the anterior pole of the embryo. For phylogenetic and functional reasons both these entities are addressed here as the mammalian anterior pregastrulation differentiation (APD). However, mouse and rabbit show distinct structural differences in APD and the molecular blueprint, making the search of general rules for axial differentiation in mammals difficult. Therefore, the pig was analysed here as a further species with a mammotypical flat embryonic disc. Using light and electron microscopy and in situ hybridisation for three key genes involved in early development (sox17, nodal and brachyury), two axial structures of early gastrulation in the pig were identified: (1) the anterior hypoblast (AHB) characterised by increased cellular height and density and by sox17 expression, and (2) the early primitive streak characterised by a high pseudostratified epithelium with an almost continuous but unusually thick basement membrane, by localised epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and by brachyury expression in the epiblast. The stepwise appearance of these two axial structures was used to define three stages typical for mammals at the start of gastrulation. Intriguingly, the round shape and gradual posterior displacement of the APD in the pig appear to be species-specific (differing from all other mammals studied in detail to date) but correlate with ensuing specific primitive streak and extraembryonic mesoderm development. APD and, hence, the earliest axial structure presently known in the mammalian embryo may thus be functionally involved in shaping extraembryonic membranes and, possibly, the specific adult body form.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology*
  • Gastrulation*
  • Rabbits
  • Swine / embryology*
  • Time Factors