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The notochord is a flexible rod-shaped body found in embryos of all chordates. It is composed of cells derived from the mesoderm and defines the primitive axis of the embryo. In some chordates, it persists throughout life as the main axial support of the body, while in most vertebrates it becomes the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral disc. The notochord is found ventral to the neural tube. Notochords were the first "backbones" serving as support structures in chordates such [1] as Haikouichthys. Notochords were advantageous to primitive fish-ancestors because they were a rigid structure for muscle attachment, yet flexible enough to allow more movement than, for example, the [2] exoskeleton of the dominant animals of that time. Embryos of vertebrates have notochords today, as retained a key role in signalling and coordinating development even as it was lost in most adults. In most tetrapods, they eventually develop into the nucleus pulposus of theintervertebral discs. The notochord (axial mesoderm, notochordal process) is the defining structure forming in all chordate embryos (taxonomic rank: phylum Chordata). It is an early forming midline structure in the trilaminar embryo mesoderm layer initially ventral to the ectoderm, then neural plate and finally neural tube. This is a transient embryonic anatomy structure, not existing in the adult, required for patterning the surrounding tissues. The patterning signal secreted by notochord cells is sonic hedgehog (shh). This secreted protein binds to receptors on target cells activating a signaling pathway involved in that tissues differentiation and development. This response appears to be concentration dependent, that is the closer to the notochord the higher the shh concentration. Thought to have at least 2 early roles in development and later roles in patterning surrounding tissues. 1. Mechanical, influencing the folding of the early embryo; 2. Morphogenic, secreting sonic hedgehog a protein which regulates the development of surrounding tissues (neural plate, somites, endoderm and other organs). In humans, the notochord forms in week 3, is eventually lost from vertebral regions and contributes to the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral disc during the formation of the vertebral column.


Neural tube patterning

Somite patterning