Background: Formation and extension of the notochord (i.e., notogenesis) is one of the earliest and most obvious events of axis development in vertebrate embryos. In birds and mammals, prospective notochord cells arise from Hensen's node and come to lie beneath the midline of the neural plate. Throughout the period of neurulation, the notochord retains its close spatial relationship with the developing neural tube and undergoes rapid extension in concert with the overlying neuroepithelium.
Methods: In the present study, we examined notochord development quantitatively in mouse embryos. C57BL/6 mouse embryos were collected at 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, and 10 days of gestation. They were then embedded in paraffin and sectioned transversely. Serial sections from 21 embryos were stained with Schiff's reagent according to the Feulgen-Rossenbeck procedure and used for quantitative analyses of notochord extension.
Results: Quantitative analyses revealed that extension of the notochord involves cell division within the notochord proper and cell rearrangement within the notochordal plate (the immediate precursor of the notochord). In addition, extension of the notochord involves cell accretion, that is, the addition of cells to the notochord's caudal end, a process that involves considerable cell rearrangement at the notochordal plate-node interface.
Conclusions: Extension of the mouse notochord occurs similarly to that described previously for birds (Sausedo and Schoenwolf, 1993 Anat. Rec. 237:58-70). That is, in both birds (i.e., quail and chick) and mouse embryos, notochord extension involves cell division, cell rearrangement, and cell accretion. Thus higher vertebrates utilize similar morphogenetic movements to effect notogenesis.