The notochord plays critical structural and signaling roles during vertebrate development. At the center of the vertebrate notochord is a large fluid-filled organelle, the notochord vacuole. Although these highly conserved intracellular structures have been described for decades, little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved in their biogenesis and maintenance. Here we show that zebrafish notochord vacuoles are specialized lysosome-related organelles whose formation and maintenance requires late endosomal trafficking regulated by the vacuole-specific Rab32a and H(+)-ATPase-dependent acidification. We establish that notochord vacuoles are required for body axis elongation during embryonic development and identify a novel role in spine morphogenesis. Thus, the vertebrate notochord plays important structural roles beyond early development.
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