Development of the Epaxial Muscles in the Human Embryo

Hayelom K. Mekonen, Jill P. J. M. Hikspoors, Greet Mommen, Eleonore (Leo) Köhler, Wouter H. Lamers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although the intrinsic muscles of the back are defined by their embryological origin and innervation pattern, no detailed study on their development is available. Human embryos (5-10 weeks development) were studied, using Amira3DVR reconstruction and Cinema4DVR remodeling software for visualization. At Carnegie Stage (CS) 15, the epaxial portions of themyotomes became identifiable laterally to the developing vertebrae. At CS16, these portions fused starting cranially to form a longitudinal muscle column, which became innervated by the dorsal branches of the spinal nerves. At CS17, the longitudinal muscle mass segregated into medial and lateral columns (completed at CS18). At CS18, the medial column segregated again into intermediate and medial columns (completed at CS20). The lateral and intermediate columns did not separate in the lower lumbar and sacral regions. Between CS20 and CS23, the cervical portions of the three columns segregated again from lateral to medial resulting ventrolaterally in rod-like continuations of the caudal portions of the columns and dorsomedially in spade-like portions. The observed topography identifies the iliocostalis and splenius as belonging to the lateral column, the longissimus to the intermediate column, and the (semi-) spinalis to the medial column. The medial (multifidus) group acquired its transversospinal course during closure of the vertebral arches in the early fetal period. Hence, the anatomical ontology of the epaxial muscles is determined by craniocaudal and lateromedial gradients in development. Three longitudinal muscle columns, commonly referred to as the erector spinae, form the basic architectural design of the intrinsic muscles of the back..
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1045
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • intrinsic back muscles
  • longitudinal muscle columns
  • craniocaudal and mediolateral developmental gradients
  • neural arch closure

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