Getting organized: new insights into the organizer of higher vertebrates

Curr Top Dev Biol. 1998;40:79-110. doi: 10.1016/s0070-2153(08)60365-8.


The Organizer of higher vertebrates (e.g., Hensen's node in birds and the node in mammals) functions much like the Organizer of lower vertebrates (e.g., embryonic shield in fish and dorsal lip of the blastopore in amphibians). In all classes of vertebrates, the Organizer displays a number of unique properties including the fate, migratory patterns, morphogenetic movements, and the level of commitment of its cells; its pattern of gene expression; its ability to induce neural differentiation; and its ability to organize and regionalize a secondary embryo when grafted ectopically. The importance of Organizer activity to formation of the neuraxis is highlighted by results from studies in which the Organizer is eliminated experimentally. Such studies demonstrate that an auxiliary system is present that can generate a reconstituted Organizer, which completely mimics the activity of the original Organizer. For almost 50 years after the discovery of Spemann's Organizer, the molecular nature of Organizer activity was virtually unknown. However, recent progress in identifying the morphoregulatory molecules underlying Organizer activity has been substantial, and a full understanding of the molecular basis of this activity is imminent. Thus, the intriguing question of how the Organizer organizes, raised by the seminal experiments of Spemann and Mangold, is finally being answered in this exciting renaissance of developmental biology driven by new molecular and genetic approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastoderm / cytology
  • Body Patterning
  • Cell Movement
  • Chick Embryo
  • Gastrula / cytology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Mice
  • Nervous System / embryology
  • Vertebrates / embryology*
  • Vertebrates / genetics