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embryonic develoment, early blastocyst

Embryonic Development: Pre-Implantation

Pre-Implantation Days 1 – 3

Following fertilization, the zygote and its associated membranes, called the conceptus, continue to be projected toward the uterus by peristalsis and beating cilia.

During its journey to the uterus, the zygote undergoes five or six rapid mitotic cell divisions. Although each cleavage results in more cells, it does not increase the total volume of the conceptus. Each daughter cell produced by cleavage is called a blastomere (blastos = “germ,” in the sense of a seed or sprout).

Embryonic Development: Pre-Implantation Days 1-3

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Pre-Implantation Days 4 – 6

Approximately 3 days after fertilization, a 16-cell conceptus reaches the uterus. The cells that had been loosely grouped are now compacted and look more like a solid mass. The name given to this structure is the morula (morula = “little mulberry”).

Once inside the uterus, the conceptus floats freely for several more days. It continues to divide, creating a ball of approximately 100 cells and consuming nutritious endometrial secretions called uterine milk while the uterine lining thickens. The ball of now tightly bound cells starts to secrete fluid and organize themselves around a fluid-filled cavity, the blastocoel. At this developmental stage, the conceptus is referred to as a blastocyst. Within this structure, a group of cells forms into an inner cell mass, fated to become the embryo. Surrounding the inner cell mass and blastocoel cavity is a layer of cells called the trophoblast (trophe = “to feed” or “to nourish”). This cell layer will develop into the chorionic sac and a significant portion of the placenta (the organ of nutrient, waste, and gas exchange between the mother and the developing offspring).

Embryonic Development: Pre-Implantation Days 4-6

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The inner mass of embryonic cells is totipotent during this stage, meaning that each cell has the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the human body. Totipotency lasts for only a few days before the cells’ fates are set as precursors to a specific lineage of cells.

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References and Attributions

OpenStax, Anatomy and Physiology

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