Notochords were the first "backbones", as well, serving as support structures in chordates that lacked a bony skeleton. The very first vertebrates, such as Haikouicthys, had only a notochord. Embryos of vertebrates have notochords today, as embryonic development often happens to follow a pattern similar to the ancestral evolution of the modern animal's traits. Notochords were advantageous to primitive fish-ancestors because they were a rigid structure for muscle attachment, yet flexible enough to allow more movement than, for example, the exoskeleton of the dominant animals of that time. In humans, they eventually develop into the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral discs.
The notochord secretes a protein called sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH), a key morphogen regulating organogenesis and having a critical role in signaling the development of motoneurons. The secretion of SHH by the notochord establishes the ventral pole of the dorsal-ventral axis in the developing embryo.
Continued growth and cell proliferation into adulthood in the notochord of the appendicularian Oikopleura dioica.(Author abstract)
Feb 01, 2008; Introduction The subphylum Urochordata (or Tunicata) of the phylum Chordata includes three classes: Ascidiacea, Thaliacea, and...