The epiblast layer of the chick embryo gives rise to all embryonic tissues. In vitro analyses were carried out to determine whether epiblast cells could form skeletal muscle prior to entry into the primitive streak. Epiblasts were separated from the mesoderm, hypoblast, and primitive streak, dissociated to produce a single cell suspension, and plated at high density. Myogenesis began on the first day in culture, and by the fifth day most cells had differentiated into skeletal muscle. Some cells differentiated without replicating. MyoD messenger RNA was present in epiblast tissue and translated in practically all cells in culture. Cells from regions of the epiblast which do not form muscle later in the embryo did so in vitro. Epiblasts cultured for 2 days as an intact epithelium, or in the presence of the mesoderm and hypoblast, did not undergo myogenesis. These findings demonstrate that myogenic potential is wide-spread within the primitive streak stage epiblast, and that muscle differentiation, which occurs relatively autonomously in culture, can be prevented by cell and tissue interactions.
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