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The timing of monozygotic twinning: a criticism of the common model

  • Gonzalo Herranz (a1)


In the dominant model, monozygotic (MZ) twinning is universally accepted as a post-fertilization event resulting from splitting of the embryo along its first 2 weeks of development. The stage at which splitting occurs determines chorionicity and amnionicity. A short history on how the model was built is presented, stressing the role played by some embryologists, in particular George Corner, in its completion and final success. Strikingly, for more than 60 years no deep criticisms have been raised against the model, which, in virtue of its rational and plausible character, enjoys the status of undisputed truth. At close examination, the embryological support of the model shows some important weak points, particularly when dealing with late splitting. In the author's view, the model not only has contributed to ‘suspend’ our knowledge on the timing of MZ twinning, but seems indefensible and claims to be substituted. That factor could imply relevant consequences for embryology and bioethics. As an alternative to the model, a new theory to explain the timing of MZ twinning is proposed. It is based on two premises. First, MZ twinning would be a fertilization event. In that case, due to an alteration of the zygote–blastomere transition, the first zygotic division, instead of producing two blastomeres, generates twin zygotes. Second, monochorionicity and monoamnionicity would not depend on embryo splitting, but on fusion of membranes. Some support for this theory can be found in recent embryological advances and also in some explanations of old.


Corresponding author

All correspondence to: Gonzalo Herranz. Department of Medical Humanities, School of Medicine, University of Navarre, Apartado 177, 31080 Pamplona, Spain. Tel: +34 948 425 600, ext. 6354. Fax: +34 948 425 630. e-mail:


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