Embryology of the Parathyroid Glands

  • Nancy R. ManleyEmail author


The parathyroid glands develop from the pharyngeal pouches, transient endodermal outpocketings that also form the thymus and ultimobranchial bodies in vertebrates. The parathyroids vary in number and final location in different vertebrates, including in humans and mice. Despite its importance in calcium physiology, the molecular regulators and cellular events underlying parathyroid organogenesis have only recently begun to be elucidated, in part due to their small size, nondescript shape, and variable locations. Recent work has identified some of the key molecular regulators of parathyroid organogenesis, including the transcription factors GCM2, GATA3, and TBX1, and the sonic hedgehog (SHH) signaling pathway, and the morphogenetic events leading to their development have begun to be defined. The parathyroids develop from a shared initial organ primordium with the thymus glands, leading to interesting connections between these two organs with diverse functions. Finally, a recent study has shown that parathyroid cell fate may be unstable during late fetal development. Further understanding of the mechanisms controlling parathyroid specification and embryonic development could contribute to better understanding of parathyroid biology and improved treatment for hyoparathyroidism in humans.


Organogenesis Morphogenesis Pharyngeal endoderm Gcm2 Sonic hedgehog 



The author thanks Jena Chojnowski and Zhijie Liu for generating the images in Fig. 2.1. The author also thanks John O’Neil for providing helpful comments on the manuscript.
Fig. 2.1

Parathyroid organogenesis in the mouse embryo. (a, b) Saggital sections of mouse E10.5 (a) and E11.5 (b) embryos stained with an antibody recognizing GCM2. At these stages, GCM2 (pink or green) marks the dorsal-anterior domain of the 3rd pharyngeal pouch-derived organ primordium (outlined in white dashed line); the remainder of the pouch becomes thymus. (c) By E15.5, the parathyroid (pt) has separated from the thymus and is usually located near the lateral aspects of the thyroid lobes (tyr). In this panel, tra, trachea. Gcm2 expression is shown using a GCM2-EGFP transgene. (d) At E18.5 and after birth, the main parathyroid gland (pt) is usually located at or within the thyroid gland, here identified by in situ hybridization with a probe for Pth. However, small clusters of parathyroid cells are present throughout the neck between the main parathyroid and the thymus gland (arrows), remnants of the process of organ separation and migration


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeneticsUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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