Medical Definition of Ectoderm

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ectoderm: One of the three primary germ cell layers (the other two being the mesoderm and endoderm) that make up the very early embryo. The ectoderm is the outermost of the three layers. It differentiates to give rise to many important tissues and structures including the outer layer of the skin and its appendages (the sweat glands, hair, and nails), the teeth, the lens of the eye, parts of the inner ear, the nerves, brain, and spinal cord. This much is classic human embryology.

Stem cell research, however, has shown that some cells within ectodermal structures retain their ability to differentiate into other tissues. For example, some cells in brain (ectoderm) can become bone marrow (mesoderm).

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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