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Development. 2000 Jun;127(11):2461-70.

The bHLH transcription factor dHAND controls Sonic hedgehog expression and establishment of the zone of polarizing activity during limb development.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Dallas, Texas 75390-9148, USA.


Limb outgrowth and patterning of skeletal elements are dependent on complex tissue interactions involving the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA) in the posterior region of the limb bud and the apical ectodermal ridge. The peptide morphogen Sonic hedgehog (SHH) is expressed specifically in the ZPA and, when expressed ectopically, is sufficient to mimic its functions, inducing tissue growth and formation of posterior skeletal elements. We show that the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor dHAND is expressed posteriorly in the developing limb prior to Shh and subsequently occupies a broad domain that encompasses the Shh expression domain. In mouse embryos homozygous for a dHAND null allele, limb buds are severely underdeveloped and Shh is not expressed. Conversely, misexpression of dHAND in the anterior region of the limb bud of transgenic mice results in formation of an additional ZPA, revealed by ectopic expression of Shh and its target genes, and resulting limb abnormalities that include preaxial polydactyly with duplication of posterior skeletal elements. Analysis of mouse mutants in which Hedgehog expression is altered also revealed a feedback mechanism in which Hedgehog signaling is required to maintain the full dHAND expression domain in the developing limb. Together, these findings identify dHAND as an upstream activator of Shh expression and important transcriptional regulator of limb development.

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