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Development. 2004 Aug;131(16):3955-66. Epub 2004 Jul 21.

Signaling dynamics of feather tract formation from the chick somatopleure.

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  • 1Equipe Biologie de la Différenciation Epithéliale, UMR CNRS 5538, LEDAC, Institut Albert Bonniot, Université Joseph Fourier, BP 53-38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France.


In the chick, most feathers are restricted to specific areas of the skin, the feather tracts or pterylae, while other areas, such as the apteria, remain bare. In the embryo, the expansion and closure of the somatopleure leads to the juxtaposition of the ventral pteryla, midventral apterium and amnion. The embryonic proximal somatopleural mesoderm is determined to form a feather-forming dermis at 2 days of incubation (E2), while the embryonic distal and the extra-embryonic somatopleure remain open to determination. We found a progressive, lateral expression of Noggin in the embryonic area, and downregulation of Msx1, a BMP4 target gene, with Msx1 expression being ultimately restricted to the most distal embryonic and extra-embryonic somatopleural mesoderm. Msx1 downregulation thus correlates with the formation of the pterylae, and its maintenance to that of the apterium. Suspecting that the inhibition of BMP4 signaling might be linked to the determination of a feather-forming dermis, we grafted Noggin-expressing cells in the distal somatopleure at E2. This elicited the formation of a supplementary pteryla in the midventral apterium. Endogenous Noggin, which is secreted by the intermediate mesoderm at E2, then by the proximal somatopleure at E4, could be sufficient to suppress BMP4 signaling in the proximal somatopleural mesoderm and then in part of the distal somatopleure, thus in turn allowing the formation of the dense dermis of the future pterylae. The same result was obtained with the graft of Shh-producing cells, but Noggin and Shh are both required in order to change the future amnion into a feather-bearing skin. A possible synergistic role of endogenous Shh from the embryonic endoderm remains to be confirmed.

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