The vacuole within: how cellular organization dictates notochord function.


The notochord is an evolutionarily conserved structure that has long been known to play an important role in patterning during embryogenesis. Structurally, the notochord is composed of two cell layers: an outer epithelial-like sheath, and an inner core of cells that contain large fluid-filled vacuoles. We have recently shown these notochord vacuoles are lysosome-related organelles that form through Rab32a and vacuolar-type proton-ATPase-dependent acidification. Disruption of notochord vacuoles results in a shortened embryo along the anterior-posterior axis. Interestingly, we discovered that notochord vacuoles are also essential for proper spine morphogenesis and that vacuole defects lead to scoliosis of the spine. Here we discuss the cellular organization of the notochord and how key features of its architecture allow the notochord to function in embryonic axis elongation and spine formation.