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Somites are the precursors of the vertebral column. They segment from the presomitic mesoderm (PSM) that is caudally located and newly generated from the tailbud. Somites form in synchrony on either side of the embryonic midline in a reiterative manner. A molecular clock that operates in the PSM drives this reiterative process. Genetic manipulation in mouse, chick and zebrafish has revealed that the molecular clock controls the activity of the Notch and WNT signaling pathways in the PSM. Disruption of the molecular clock impacts on somite formation causing abnormal vertebral segmentation (AVS). A number of dysmorphic syndromes manifest AVS defects. Interaction between developmental biologists and clinicians has lead to groundbreaking research in this area with the identification that spondylocostal dysostosis (SCD) is caused by mutation in Delta-like 3 (DLL3), Mesoderm posterior 2 (MESP2), and Lunatic fringe (LFNG); three genes that are components of the Notch signaling pathway. This review describes our current understanding of the somitic molecular clock and highlights how key findings in developmental biology can impact on clinical practice.

Original publication




Journal article


Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today

Publication Date





93 - 110


Animals, Biological Clocks, Body Patterning, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Mice, Mutation, Receptors, Notch, Signal Transduction, Somites, Spine, Tretinoin