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This paper presents a self-organizing medium access control (MAC) protocol framework for distributed sensor networks with arbitrary mesh topologies. The novelty of the proposed In-band self-organized MAC (ISOMAC) protocol lies in its in-band control mechanism for exchanging time-division multiple access (TDMA) slot information with distributed MAC scheduling. A fixed-length bitmap vector is used in each packet header for exchanging relative slot timing information across immediate and up to two-hop neighbors. It is shown that, by avoiding explicit timing information exchange, ISOMAC can work without networkwide time synchronization, which can be prohibitive for severely cost-constrained sensor nodes in very large networks. A slot-clustering effect, caused by in-band bitmap constraints, enables ISOMAC to offer better spatial channel reuse compared to traditional distributed TDMA protocols. ISOMAC employs a partial node wake-up and header-only transmission strategy to adjust energy expenditure based on the instantaneous nodal data rate. Both analytical and simulation models have been developed for characterizing the proposed protocol. Results demonstrate that, with in-band bitmap vectors of moderate length, ISOMAC converges reasonably quickly, that is, approximately within a four to eight TDMA frame duration. Also, if the bitmap header duration is restricted within 10 percent of packet duration, then the energy penalty of the in-band information is quite negligible. It is also shown that ISOMAC can be implemented in the presence of network time synchronization, although its performance without synchronization is just marginally worse than that with synchronization.