Cleavage divisions in many animals form a blastula made up of a simple polarized epithelium. This simple embryonic epithelium possesses an apical surface covered with microvilli and primary cilia separated from the basolateral surfaces by cell–cell junctions. The apical membrane proteins and lipids differ from those of the basolateral on these embryonic epithelial cells, as is found in adult epithelial cells. Formation of cell polarity in embryos at fertilization, including those from both protostomes and deuterostomes, uses the same molecules and signalling machinery as do polarizing epithelial cells that polarize upon cell–cell contact. In addition, the actin–myosin cytoskeleton plays an integral role in establishment and maintenance of this early cell polarity. However, early cleaving blastomeres from higher organisms including echinoderms and vertebrates have not been considered to exhibit cell polarity until formation of junctions at the third through to the fifth cleavage divisions. The role of new membrane addition into the late cleavage furrow during the early rounds of cytokinesis may play a key role in the early establishment of cell polarity in all animal embryos.

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