Spiral waves and vertebrate embryonic handedness

Antony J. Durston, João Peres, Morrel H. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


During early embryonic development, the vertebrate main body axis is segmented from head-to-tail into somites. Somites emerge sequentially from the presomitic mesoderm (PSM) as a consequence of oscillatory waves of genetic activity, called somitogenesis waves. Here, we discuss the implications of the dynamic patterns of early X-Delta-2 expression in the prospective somites (somitomeres) of Xenopus laevis. We report that right somitomeres normally emerge before left to form chiral structures (i.e. structures having clockwise or counter-clockwise handedness). From our observations, we infer that somitogenesis waves are normally counter-clockwise spirals, a novel dynamic mechanism for the control of handedness development in Xenopus. We propose that the same mechanism could control handedness development in all vertebrate embryos, providing a dynamical basis for the current asymmetric molecular transport model for generating left–right asymmetry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-390
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Biosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Delta-notch signalling
  • handedness
  • left–right asymmetry
  • spiral somitogenesis waves
  • vertebrate somitogenesis


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