Here, we show that mesenchyme cells have a novel morphogenetic function in epithelial cell proliferation in starfish embryos. Blastula embryos were injected with pure populations of mesenchyme cells and the total cell numbers in the treated embryos were subsequently determined at different developmental stages. When a total of 40-50 mesenchyme cells was injected, total cells numbers in mid-gastrula embryos and 3-day-old bipinnaria larvae increased significantly (by 1.3-fold) compared with controls, with no indication of any mitotic activity in the injected mesenchyme cells. However, injection of more than 150 mesenchyme cells failed to induce proliferation of the epithelial cells and, moreover, interfered with normal morphogenesis. These developmental abnormalities occurred concomitantly with a severe condensation of the fibrous component of the extracellular matrix. Our data suggest that epithelial cell proliferation is induced by an appropriate number of mesenchyme cells in concert with the fibrous component of the extracellular matrix.
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