Development of the secondary palate involves a complex series of embryonic events which, if disrupted, result in the common congenital anomaly cleft palate. The secondary palate forms from paired palatal shelves which grow initially vertically before elevating to a horizontal position above the tongue and fusing together in the midline via the medial edge epithelia. As the epithelia of the vertical palatal shelves are in contact with the mandibular and lingual epithelia, pathological fusions between the palate and the mandible and/or the tongue must be prevented. This function is mediated by the single cell layered periderm which forms in a distinct and reproducible pattern early in embryogenesis, exhibits highly polarised expression of adhesion complexes, and is shed from the outer surface as the epidermis acquires its barrier function. Disruption of periderm formation and/or function underlies a series of birth defects that exhibit multiple inter-epithelial adhesions including the autosomal dominant popliteal pterygium syndrome and the autosomal recessive cocoon syndrome and Bartsocas Papas syndrome. Genetic analyses of these conditions have shown that IRF6, IKKA, SFN, RIPK4 and GRHL3, all of which are under the transcriptional control of p63, play a key role in periderm formation. Despite these observations, the medial edge epithelia must rapidly acquire the capability to fuse if the palatal shelves are not to remain cleft. This process is driven by TGFβ3-mediated, down-regulation of p63 in the medial edge epithelia which allows periderm migration out of the midline epithelial seam and reduces the proliferative potential of the midline epithelial seam thereby preventing cleft palate. Together, these findings indicate that periderm plays a transient but fundamental role during embryogenesis in preventing pathological adhesion between intimately apposed, adhesion-competent epithelia.
Keywords: Cleft palate; Ectoderm; Palatal fusion; Periderm; Pterygium syndromes.
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