Secondary mesenchyme in sea urchin embryos is released into the blastocoel after primary mesenchyme, and although these cells have been recognized for some time, we lack knowledge about many fundamental aspects of their origin and fate. Here we documented the ontogeny of one of the principal, and least well-known, types of cells derived from secondary mesenchyme. The blastocoelar cells arise from mesenchyme released from the tip of the archenteron following the initial phase of gastrulation. The cells migrate with their cell bodies suspended in the blastocoel, rather than being apposed to the basal lamina like primary mesenchyme. The cells extend numerous fine filopodia to form a network of cytoplasmic processes around the gut, along the skeletal rods, and within the larval arms. Once the network is formed, the cells maintain their positions, although they actively translocate vesicles and cytoplasm along their filopodia. Cell counts indicate there is an initial recruitment of cells during gastrulation, followed by a more gradual increase in cell number after the larva begins to feed. Lineage studies in which 16-cell-stage macromeres were injected with horseradish peroxidase indicate that almost all of the macromere-derived mesenchyme forms pigment cells and blastocoelar cells. We propose that blastocoelar cells are a distinct subset of secondary mesenchyme that forms fibroblast-like cells in the blastocoel of sea urchin embryos.
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