During vertebrate development, the primary body axis elongates towards the posterior and is periodically divided into somites, which give rise to the vertebrae, skeletal muscles and dermis. Somites form periodically from anterior to posterior, and the anterior somites form in a more rapid cycle than the posterior somites. However, how this anteroposterior (AP) difference in somitogenesis is generated and how it contributes to the vertebrate body plan remain unclear. Here, we show that the AP difference in zebrafish somitogenesis originates from a variable overlapping segmentation period between one somite and the next. The AP difference is attributable to spatiotemporal inhibition of the clock gene her1 via retinoic acid (RA) regulation of the transcriptional repressor ripply1. RA depletion thus disrupts timely somite formation at the transition, eventually leading to the loss of one somite and the resultant cervical vertebra. Overall, our results indicate that RA regulation of the AP difference is crucial for proper linkage between the head and trunk in the vertebrate body plan.
- Accepted October 8, 2013.