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The human vertebral column at the end of the embryonic period proper. 2. The occipitocervical region.

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The present investigation of the cervical region of the vertebral column at eight post-ovulatory weeks is the first such study based on precise reconstructions of staged embryos. At the end of the embryonic period proper, a typical vertebra is a U-shaped piece of cartilage characterized by spina bifida occulta. The notochord ascends through the centra and leaves the dens to enter the basal plate of the skull. The median column of the axis comprises three parts (designated X, Y, Z) which persist well into the fetal period. They are related to the first, second and third cervical nerves, respectively. Part X may project into the foramen magnum and form an occipito-axial joint. Part Z appears to be the centrum of the axis. The articular columns of the cervical vertebrae are twofold, as in the adult: an anterior (atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial) and a posterior (from the lower aspect of the axis downwards). Alar and transverse ligaments are present. Cavitation is not found in the embryonic period in either the atlanto-occipital or zygapophysial joints, and is generally not present in the median atlanto-axial joint either. Most of the transverse processes exhibit anterior and posterior tubercles. An 'intertubercular lamella' may or may not be present, i.e. the foramina transversaria are being formed around the vertebral artery. The spinal ganglia are generally partly in the vertebral canal and partly on the neural arches, medial to the articular processes. During the fetal period, the articular processes shift to a coronal position and this alteration appears to be associated with a corresponding change in the location of the spinal ganglia.

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