Cleavage and Gastrulation in Mouse Embryos


After fertilization of the mammalian oocyte, the developmental programme leading to the conceptus begins with the early cleavage divisions. Lineage differentation begins after the early and mammal‐specific event of compaction and continues throughout development of the blastocyst. This structure, unique to mammals, after implantation will give rise to the various embryonic and extraembryonic tissues of the developing conceptus. Soon after implantation, the orientation of the main body axis becomes apparent with the primitive streak, and the node at its anterior end. Gastrulation through the primitive streak results in the formation and segregation of the three germ layers and the establishment of the basic body plan of the developing fetus. Finally, we compare mammalian early development to other vertebrates.

Key concepts:

  • Being higher animals, the early development of mammals prepares for and culminates in the generation of three tissue layers by gastrulation.

  • Many aspects of early mammalian development are shared with fellow amniote animals (reptiles and birds) and even with anamniote vertebrates (e.g. amphibians).

  • Mammals have however evolved specific adaptations to development in the mother's womb, in particular with regard to early stages of development and the role of the extraembyronic tissues.

Keywords: blastocyst; epiblast; primitive streak; node; notochord

Figure 1.

(a) Phase‐contrast photomicrographs of preimplantation stages of mouse development showing (i) 2‐cell, (ii) 4‐cell, (iii) precompact 8‐cell, (iv) compact 8‐cell, (v) mid‐expanded blastocyst with embryonic (Em)–abembryonic (Ab) axis indicated and (vi) late blastocyst hatching from zona pellucida. Bar, 20 μm. (b) Preimplantation stages showing cell position, the origin of cell lineages, the orientation of cell divisions to generate trophectoderm (TE) and inner cell mass (ICM) and the distinction between polar TE and mural TE.

Figure 2.

Selected postimplantation stages (5.5–7.5 days post coitum) of mouse development. Derivatives of trophectoderm are shown in grey, hypoblast in yellow and epiblast in blue. For clarity, parietal yolk sac wall (parietal endoderm and trophoblast giant cells) is shown only in (a). Mesoderm (embryonic and extraembryonic) is shown in pink, definitive gut endoderm in pale yellow and the notochord and head process in red. In (b), the extraembryonic region of the egg cylinder is shown separated from epiblast in order to indicate the origin of the primitive streak. In (d), the epiblast is sectionalized to show the primitive streak with mesoderm accumulating between the epiblast and visceral endoderm. Reproduced with permission and modifications to labelling from Hogan B, Beddington R, Costantini F and Lacy E (1994) Manipulating the Mouse Embryo, A Laboratory Manual, 2nd edn. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Copyright © 1994 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.


Further Reading

Beddington RSP (1994) Induction of a second neural axis by the mouse node. Development 120: 613–620.

Eckert JJ and Fleming TP (2008) Tight junction biogenesis during early development. Biochim Biophys Acta, Biomembranes 1778: 717–728.

Gardner RL (1983) Origin and differentiation of extra‐embryonic tissues in the mouse. International Review of Experimental Pathology 24: 63–133.

Izumi N, Era T, Akimaru H, Yasunaga M and Nishikawa SI (2007) Dissecting the molecular hierarchy for mesendoderm differentiation through a combination of embryonic stem cell culture and RNA interference. Stem Cells 25: 1664–1674.

Johnson MH and McConnell JM (2004) Lineage allocation and cell polarity during mouse embryogenesis. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology 15: 583–597.

Lewis SL and Tam PPL (2006) Definitive endoderm of the mouse embryo: formation, cell fates, and morphogenetic function. Developmental Dynamics 235: 2315–2329.

Nagy A, Gertsenstein M, Vinterstein K and Behringer R (2003) Manipulating the Mouse Embryo, A Laboratory Manual, 3rd edn. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Yamamoto M, Saijoh Y, Perea‐Gomez A et al. (2004) Nodal antagonists regulate formation of the anteroposterior axis of the mouse embryo. Nature 428: 387–392.

Yamanaka Y, Ralston A, Stephenson RO and Rossant J (2006) Cell and molecular regulation of the mouse blastocyst. Developmental Dynamics 235: 2301–2314.

Zernicka‐Goetz M (2006) The first cell‐fate decisions in the mouse embryo: destiny is a matter of both chance and choice. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 16: 406–412.

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Papenbrock, Tom, Wild, Arthur E, and Fleming, Tom P(Sep 2009) Cleavage and Gastrulation in Mouse Embryos. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001068.pub2]