Birthdating studies reshape models for pituitary gland cell specification

Dev Biol. 2011 Apr 15;352(2):215-27. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.01.010. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


The intermediate and anterior lobes of the pituitary gland are derived from an invagination of oral ectoderm that forms Rathke's pouch. During gestation proliferating cells are enriched around the pouch lumen, and they appear to delaminate as they exit the cell cycle and differentiate. During late mouse gestation and the postnatal period, anterior lobe progenitors re-enter the cell cycle and expand the populations of specialized, hormone-producing cells. At birth, all cell types are present, and their localization appears stratified based on cell type. We conducted a birth dating study of Rathke's pouch derivatives to determine whether the location of specialized cells at birth is correlated with the timing of cell cycle exit. We find that all of the anterior lobe cell types initiate differentiation concurrently with a peak between e11.5 and e13.5. Differentiation of intermediate lobe melanotropes is delayed relative to anterior lobe cell types. We discovered that specialized cell types are not grouped together based on birth date and are dispersed throughout the anterior lobe. Thus, the apparent stratification of specialized cells at birth is not correlated with cell cycle exit. Thus, the currently popular model of cell specification, dependent upon timing of extrinsic, directional gradients of signaling molecules, needs revision. We propose that signals intrinsic to Rathke's pouch are necessary for cell specification between e11.5 and e13.5 and that cell-cell communication likely plays an important role in regulating this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Female
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Gestational Age
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Pituitary Gland / cytology
  • Pituitary Gland / embryology*
  • Pituitary Gland / physiology
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / cytology
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / embryology
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / physiology
  • Pituitary Hormones / biosynthesis
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Pituitary Hormones
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors