Embryologic and Fetal Development of the Human Orbit

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Purpose:To review the recent data about orbital development and sort out the controversies from the very early stages during embryonic life till final maturation of the orbit late in fetal life, and to appreciate the morphogenesis of all the definitive structures in the orbit in a methodical and timely fashion.Methods:The authors extensively review major studies detailing every aspect of human embryologic and fetal orbital morphogenesis including the development of extraocular muscles, orbital fat, vessels, nerves, and the supportive connective tissue framework as well as bone. These interdisciplinary studies span almost a century and a half, and include some significant controversial opposing points of view which the authors hopefully sort out. The authors also highlight a few of the most noteworthy molecular biologic studies regarding the multiple and interacting signaling pathways involved in regulating normal orbital morphogenesis.Results:Orbital morphogenesis involves a successive series of subtle yet tightly regulated morphogenetic events that could only be explained through the chronological narrative used by the authors. The processes that trigger and contribute to the formation of the orbits are complex and seem to be intricately regulated by multifaceted interactions and bidirectional cross-talk between a multitude of cellular building raw materials including the developing optic vesicles, neuroectoderm, cranial neural crest cells and mesoderm.Conclusions:Development of the orbit is a collective enterprise necessitating interactions between, as well as contributions from different cell populations both within and beyond the realm of the orbit. A basic understanding of the processes underlying orbital ontogenesis is a crucial first step toward establishing a genetic basis or an embryologic link with orbital disease.

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