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Notochord secreting sonic hedgehog, shown in white

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.

Links: Notochord | Development Animation - Notochord | Musculoskeletal | Neural | Sonic hedgehog

Some Recent Findings

  • Transcriptional profiling of the nucleus pulposus: say yes to notochord[1]"This editorial addresses the debate concerning the origin of adult nucleus pulposus cells in the light of profiling studies by Minogue and colleagues. In their report of several marker genes that distinguish nucleus pulposus cells from other related cell types, the authors provide novel insights into the notochordal nature of the former. Together with recently published work, their work lends support to the view that all cells present within the nucleus pulposus are derived from the notochord. Hence, the choice of an animal model for disc research should be based on considerations other than the cell loss and replacement by non-notochordal cells."


Neuralplate cartoon.png Somite cartoon5.png
Neural tube patterning Somite patterning

Molecular Factors


  1. <pubmed>20497604</pubmed>





Search PubMed

Search NLM Online Textbooks: "Mesoderm" : Developmental Biology | The Cell- A molecular Approach | Molecular Biology of the Cell | Endocrinology

Search Pubmed: Mesoderm | Notochord

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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2020, January 20) Embryology Mesoderm. Retrieved from

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© Dr Mark Hill 2020, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G