Cell intercalation during notochord development in Xenopus laevis

Ray Keller, Mark S. Cooper, Mike Danilchik, Paul Tibbetts, Paul A. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Morphometric data from scanning electron micrographs (SEM) of cells in intact embryos and high‐resolution time‐lapse recordings of cell behavior in cultured explants were used to analyze the cellular events underlying the morphogenesis of the notochord during gastrulation and neurulation of Xenopus laevis. The notochord becomes longer, narrower, and thicker as it changes its shape and arrangement and as more cells are added at the posterior end. The events of notochord development fall into three phases. In the first phase, occurring in the late gastrula, the cells of the notochord become distinct from those of the somitic mesoderm on either side. Boundaries form between the two tissues, as motile activity at the boundary is replaced by stabilizing lamel‐liform protrusions in the plane of the boundary. In the second phase, spanning the late gastrula and early neurula, cell intercalation causes the notochord to narrow, thicken, and lengthen. Its cells elongate and align mediolaterally as they rearrange. Both protrusive activity and its effectiveness are biased: the anterioposterior (AP) margins of the cells advance and retract but produce much less translocation than the more active left and right ends. The cell surfaces composing the lateral boundaries of the notochord remain inactive. In the last phase, lasting from the mid‐ to late neurula stage, the increasingly flattened cells spread at all their interior margins, transforming the notochord into a cylindrical structure resembling a stack of pizza slices. The notochord is also lengthened by the addition of cells to its posterior end from the circumblastoporal ring of mesoderm. Our results show that directional cell movements underlie cell intercalation and raise specific questions about the cell polarity, contact behavior, and mechanics underlying these movements. They also demonstrate that the notochord is built by several distinct but carefully coordinated processes, each working within a well‐defined geometric and mechanical environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-154
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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