Intracellular fate mapping in a basal metazoan, the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, reveals the origins of mesoderm and the existence of indeterminate cell lineages

Mark Q. Martindale, Jonathan Q. Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ctenophores are marine invertebrates that develop rapidly and directly into juvenile adults. They are likely to be the simplest metazoans possessing definitive muscle cells and are possibly the sister group to the Bilateria. All ctenophore embryos display a highly stereotyped, phylum-specific pattern of development in which every cell can be identified by its lineage history. We generated a cell lineage fate map for Mnemiopsis leidyi by injecting fluorescent lineage tracers into individual blastomeres up through the 60- cell stage. The adult ctenophore body plan is composed of four nearly identical quadrants organized along the oral-aboral axis. Each of the four quadrants is derived largely from one cell of the four-cell-stage embryo. At the eight-cell stage each quadrant contains a single E ('end') and M ('middle') blastomere. Subsequently, micromeres are formed first at the aboral pole and later at the oral pole. The ctene rows, apical organ, and tentacle apparatus are complex structures that are generated by both E and M blastomere lineages from all four quadrants. All muscle cells are derived from micromeres born at the oral pole of endomesodermal precursors (2M and 3E macromeres). While the development of the four quadrants is similar, diagonally opposed quadrants share more similarities than adjacent quadrants. Adult ctenophores possess two diagonally opposed endodermal anal canals that open at the base of the apical organ. These two structures are derived from the two diagonally opposed 2M/macromeres. The two opposing 2M/macromeres generated a unique set of circumpharyngeal muscle cells, but do not contribute to the anal canals. No other lineages displayed such diagonal asymmetries. Clones from each blastomere yielded regular, but not completely invariant patterns of descendents. Ectodermal descendents normally, but not always, remained within their corresponding quadrants. On the other hand, endodermal and mesodermal progeny dispersed throughout the body. The variability in the exact complements of adult structures, along with previously published cell deletion experiments, demonstrates that cell interactions are required for normal cell fate determination. Ctenophore embryos, like those of many bilaterian phyla (e.g., spiralians, nematodes, and echinoids), display a highly stereotyped cleavage program in which some, but not all, blastomeres are determined at the time of their birth. The results suggest that mesodermal tissues originally evolved from endoderm tissue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-257
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 15 1999


  • Basal metazoan
  • Fate map
  • Mesoderm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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