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Development of the Cranial Vesicles and Flexures

This page was last updated on April 8th, 2024

The formation of the cranial vesicles and flexures provides further development and segmentation of the brain and occurs in two phases (3, 10, 11, 12). The spinal cord is caudal to the myelencephalon and remains unsegmented.

Primary Vesicles

The cranial neural tube during the fourth embryonic week divides into three morphologically and histochemically distinct primary vesicles:

  • Prosencephalon (forebrain)
  • Mesencephalon (midbrain)
  • Rhombencephalon (hindbrain)


Formation of the primary vesicles: Formation and progression of the mesencephalic and cervical flexures are shown. From Larsen (12).


Secondary Vesicles

During the fifth embryonic week, five secondary vesicles develop from the primary vesicles:

Prosencephalon – two secondary vesicles

  • Telencephalon: The telencephalon forms the cerebrum and basal ganglia.
  • Diencephalon: The diencephalon develops into the hypothalamus, thalamus, epithalamus, neural retina, and pineal body.

Mesencephalon – one secondary vesicle

  • Mesencephalon: The mesencephalon remains unchanged and gives rise to the tectum (superior and inferior colliculi), midbrain tegmentum, and cerebral peduncles.

Rhombencephalon – two secondary vesicles

  • Metencephalon: The metencephalon forms the pons and cerebellum.
  • Myelencephalon: The myelencephalon develops into the medulla.


Formation of the secondary vesicles: Shown are the five secondary vesicles that form during the fifth embryonic week. From Larsen (12).


Primary Flexures

Concave bending of the neuraxis (primary flexures) occurs during the fourth embryonic week.

  • Mesencephalic flexure: The mesencephalic flexure occurs around the mesencephalon.
  • Cervical flexure: The cervical flexure occurs at the junction of the metencephalon and spinal cord.

Third Flexure

  • Pontine flexure: A third flexure, the pontine flexure, occurs during the fifth embryonic week between the mesencephalic and cervical flexures and is concave ventrally. The roof of the mesencephalon becomes thinned as a result of the pontine flexure and produces the roof of the fourth ventricle.


Formation of the flexures: Shown are the three flexures that have formed by the fifth embryonic week. From Larsen (12).

Formation of the cranial flexures: Final configuration is shown. From Larsen (12).