Closure of the vertebral canal in human embryos and fetuses

Hayelom K. Mekonen, Jill P. J. M. Hikspoors, Greet Mommen, Nutmethee Kruepunga, S. Eleonore Kohler, Wouter H. Lamers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)

Abstract

The vertebral column is the paradigm of the metameric architecture of the vertebrate body. Because the number of somites is a convenient parameter to stage early human embryos, we explored whether the closure of the vertebral canal could be used similarly for staging embryos between 7 and 10weeks of development. Human embryos (5-10weeks of development) were visualized using Amira 3D((R)) reconstruction and Cinema 4D((R)) remodelling software. Vertebral bodies were identifiable as loose mesenchymal structures between the dense mesenchymal intervertebral discs up to 6weeks and then differentiated into cartilaginous structures in the 7th week. In this week, the dense mesenchymal neural processes also differentiated into cartilaginous structures. Transverse processes became identifiable at 6weeks. The growth rate of all vertebral bodies was exponential and similar between 6 and 10weeks, whereas the intervertebral discs hardly increased in size between 6 and 8weeks and then followed vertebral growth between 8 and 10weeks. The neural processes extended dorsolaterally (6th week), dorsally (7th week) and finally dorsomedially (8th and 9th weeks) to fuse at the midthoracic level at 9weeks. From there, fusion extended cranially and caudally in the 10th week. Closure of the foramen magnum required the development of the supraoccipital bone as a craniomedial extension of the exoccipitals (neural processes of occipital vertebra 4), whereas a growth burst of sacral vertebra 1 delayed closure until 15weeks. Both the cranial- and caudal-most vertebral bodies fused to form the basioccipital (occipital vertebrae 1-4) and sacrum (sacral vertebrae 1-5). In the sacrum, fusion of its so-called alar processes preceded that of the bodies by at least 6weeks. In conclusion, the highly ordered and substantial changes in shape of the vertebral bodies leading to the formation of the vertebral canal make the development of the spine an excellent, continuous staging system for the (human) embryo between 6 and 10weeks of development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-274
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume231
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Keywords

  • somite
  • staging system
  • vertebral canal
  • STAGED HUMAN-EMBRYOS
  • SPINA-BIFIDA OCCULTA
  • NEURAL-TUBE DEFECTS
  • PERIOD PROPER
  • MOUSE EMBRYO
  • DEVELOPMENTAL CONSTRAINTS
  • CRANIOVERTEBRAL JUNCTION
  • CERVICAL-VERTEBRAE
  • OCCIPITAL SOMITES
  • HOX GENES

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