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Development. 2004 May;131(10):2339-47. Epub 2004 Apr 21.

Direct interaction with Hoxd proteins reverses Gli3-repressor function to promote digit formation downstream of Shh.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pathology, Center for Cancer Research, NCI, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling regulates both digit number and identity, but how different distinct digit types (identities) are specified remains unclear. Shh regulates digit formation largely by preventing cleavage of the Gli3 transcription factor to a repressor form that shuts off expression of Shh target genes. The functionally redundant 5'Hoxd genes regulate digit pattern downstream of Shh and Gli3, through as yet unknown targets. Enforced expression of any of several 5'Hoxd genes causes polydactyly of different distinct digit types with posterior transformations in a Gli3(+) background, whereas, in Gli3 null limbs, polydactylous digits are all similar, short and dysmorphic, even though endogenous 5'Hoxd genes are broadly misexpressed. We show that Hoxd12 interacts genetically and physically with Gli3, and can convert the Gli3 repressor into an activator of Shh target genes. Several 5'Hoxd genes, expressed differentially across the limb bud, interact physically with Gli3. We propose that a varying [Gli3]:[total Hoxd] ratio across the limb bud leads to differential activation of Gli3 target genes and contributes to the regulation of digit pattern. The resulting altered balance between 'effective' Gli3 activating and repressing functions may also serve to extend the Shh activity gradient spatially or temporally.

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