Cleavage and Gastrulation in the Mouse Embryo


After fertilisation of the oocyte, the mouse zygote divides three times before undergoing compaction, which allows polarisation of the blastomeres, and the first lineage specification between trophectoderm (destined to become placenta) and inner cell mass (ICM). The second lineage specification occurs at the blastocyst stage, when ICM cells become either epiblast (which will give rise to the embryo proper) or primitive endoderm (an extraembryonic lineage). After implantation, the proximal (site of attachment with the uterus)‐distal axis is established, quickly followed by the determination of the anterior–posterior axis. Formation of the three main germ layers, ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm, then occurs on the posterior side at the primitive streak, site of gastrulation. However, recent advances in mouse embryo live imaging have shown that lineage specification was more flexible than previously thought. It has also become possible to visualise the early stages of human embryo development.

Key Concepts

  • Early mouse embryo development proceeds through a sequence of lineages specification events.
  • Similar signalling pathways are reused at different steps of early development.
  • Positional and mechanical cues play essential roles for cell lineage specification and morphogenesis.
  • The initial steps, up to and including gastrulation, are quite conserved between all amniotes.
  • The main differences at later stages reside in the extraembryonic tissues, as mammals have adapted to internal gestation through the development of a placenta.

Keywords: compaction; polarity; cell lineages; trophectoderm; inner cell mass; blastocyst; epiblast; gastrulation; endoderm; mesoderm

Figure 1. Mouse embryo development from zygote to gastrulation. After fertilisation (E0.0), cells divide as totipotent blastomeres until embryo compaction (E2.5). The blastula‐stage embryo is formed of two cell populations: trophectoderm (TE, in grey) and inner cell mass (ICM, in beige). Once the embryo implants (E4.5), the ICM differentiates and segregates into primitive endoderm (PE, in purple) and epiblast (EPI, in red). At E5.5, the embryo shape is cylindrical, and the PE gives rise to the parietal endoderm (in dark blue) and the visceral endoderm (VE, in blue). VE cells in the distal part of the embryo form the anterior visceral endoderm (AVE), which migrates between E5.5 and E6 to one side of the embryonic‐extraembryonic border, thereby defining the anterior–posterior axis. At E6.5, gastrulation occurs at the posterior side of the embryo in the primitive streak (PS, in yellow), through an epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). Nascent mesoderm cells move from posterior to anterior, creating a new cell layer between ectoderm and endoderm. Some of the cells that have delaminated through the primitive streak become definitive endoderm (DE, light purple) by mesenchymal‐epithelial transition (MET).
Figure 2. Signalling networks for specification of cell lineages. TE, ICM cells, EPI and PE cells are represented in grey, beige, red and purple, respectively. A yellow line marks the apical domain of PE cells, facing the blastocyst cavity.


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Further Reading

Behringer R, Gertsenstein M, Vintersten Nagy K and Nagy A (2014) Manipulating the Mouse Embryo: A Laboratory Manual, 4th edn. USA: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Lafond J and Vaillancourt C (2009) Human Embryogenesis. Methods and Protocols. Springer Protocols.

Wallace A (2010) Evolution: A Developmental Approach. Wiley‐Blackwell.

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Nahaboo, Wallis, and Migeotte, Isabelle(Feb 2018) Cleavage and Gastrulation in the Mouse Embryo. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001068.pub3]