Embryonic origin of the gnathostome vertebral skeleton.

26 Jan 2018

The vertebral column is a key component of the jawed vertebrate (gnathostome) body plan, but the primitive embryonic origin of this skeleton remains unclear. In tetrapods, all vertebral components (neural arches, haemal arches and centra) derive from paraxial mesoderm (somites). However, in teleost fishes, vertebrae have a dual embryonic origin, with arches derived from somites, but centra formed, in part, by secretion of bone matrix from the notochord. Here, we test the embryonic origin of the vertebral skeleton in a cartilaginous fish (the skate, Leucoraja erinacea) which serves as an outgroup to tetrapods and teleosts. We demonstrate, by cell lineage tracing, that both arches and centra are somite-derived. We find no evidence of cellular or matrix contribution from the notochord to the skate vertebral skeleton. These findings indicate that the earliest gnathostome vertebral skeleton was exclusively of somitic origin, with a notochord contribution arising secondarily in teleosts.