Embryology, 4th Edition

Author: Ronald W. Dudek & James D. Fix

Publisher: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2007

2007; 304 pp.; $36.95 softcover


This book is written for undergraduate medical students and those taking the USMLE exams. It focuses on the sequence of events that occur during human embryonic development, and their associated congenital malformations.

The 27 chapters are concisely written to provide a review of embryology. The first four chapters focus on pre-fertilization through to week eight of human embryonic development. The next 13 chapters, the bulk of this book, take a systems approach. Four chapters then focus on pregnancy: two on chromosomal abnormalities (numerical and structural) and two on inherited diseases (single-gene and multifactorial). The final chapter on teratology discusses infectious agents, vaccinations, drugs, and radiation.

Bold format is used to highlight key words and bullet points are used frequently. The line drawings that accompany the text have been selected well and are very clear. Most chapters have a series of pages devoted to images of congenital malformations; others have text describing clinical considerations. Each chapter also contains a series of multiple choice questions and answers. The authors provide explanations for each answer, which the student will find valuable. A comprehensive exam of 35 questions and detailed answers concludes the book, followed by a list of figure credits and an index.

Some of the text is overly brief. An example is the two chapters concerning limb embryology (upper and lower). The overview of development of the upper limb describes only three key components of patterning (apical ectodermal ridge, zone of polarizing activity, and digit formation) in a few lines each. The following one and a half pages of text describe vasculature, musculature, nerves, rotation, and the skeleton of the limb. This is followed by two and a half pages of figures and two pages of Q & A. Thus, for this eight-page chapter, the text is limited to two pages with the emphasis on the sequence of events rather than on the mechanisms of development.

In other cases, the text is repetitive. In the chapter on the lower limb, the entire text concerning the overview of development is repeated word-for-word from the previous chapter.

Clinical considerations involving the limb bones are described in the skeletal chapter preceding the Limb chapters. Much progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms of digit formation (including joint formation) beyond what is described in this book. The text is limited to what students need to know for the USMLE exams. Only some of the genes mentioned in the book are in the index. There is no glossary of terminology or a list for further reading material should the student be interested.

With purchase of the book, buyers are given an access code enabling them to search the entire text, images, and Q &As online - a resource students will find valuable. Embryology, albeit brief in details, is an excellent tool for undergraduate medical students to accompany their lecture notes or for use as a summary for revision for their USMLE exams.


Reviewer: Tamara Franz-Odendaal, Ph.D., Department of Biology, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Review Date: December 2007

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