Inner cell mass

outer cell mass
Blastocyst English.svg
Blastocyst with an inner cell mass and trophoblast.
Gives rise toepiblast, hypoblast
Latinembryoblastus; massa cellularis interna; pluriblastus senior
Anatomical terminology

In early embryogenesis of most eutherian mammals, the inner cell mass (abbreviated ICM and also known as the embryoblast in mammals or pluriblast) is the mass of cells inside the primordial embryo that will eventually give rise to the definitive structures of the fetus. This structure forms in the earliest steps of development, before implantation into the endometrium of the uterus has occurred. The ICM lies within the blastocoele (more correctly termed "blastocyst cavity," as it is not strictly homologous to the blastocoele of anamniote vertebrates) and is entirely surrounded by the single layer of cells called trophoblast.

Further development

The physical and functional separation of the inner cell mass from the trophectoderm (TE) is a special feature of mammalian development and is the first cell lineage specification in these embryos. Following fertilization in the oviduct, the mammalian embryo undergoes a relatively slow round of cleavages to produce an eight cell morula. Each cell of the morula, called a blastomere, increases surface contact with its neighbors in a process called compaction. This results in a polarization of the cells within the morula, and further cleavage yields a blastocyst of roughly 32 cells.[1] In mice, about 12 internal cells comprise the new inner cell mass and 20 – 24 cells comprise the surrounding trophectoderm.[2][3] There is variation between species of mammals as to number of cells at compaction with bovine embryos showing differences related to compaction as early as 9-15 cells and in rabbits not until after 32 cells.[4] There is also interspecies variation in gene expression patterns in early embryos.[5]

The ICM and the TE will generate distinctly different cell types as implantation starts and embryogenesis continues. Trophectoderm cells form extraembryonic tissues, which act in a supporting role for the embryo proper. Furthermore, these cells pump fluid into the interior of the blastocyst, causing the formation of a polarized blastocyst with the ICM attached to the trophectoderm at one end (see figure). This difference in cellular localization causes the ICM cells exposed to the fluid cavity to adopt a primitive endoderm (or hypoblast) fate, while the remaining cells adopt a primitive ectoderm (or epiblast) fate. The hypoblast contributes to extraembryonic membranes and the epiblast will give rise to the ultimate embryo proper as well as some extraembryonic tissues.[1]