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Dev Biol. 2000 Mar 1;219(1):98-114.

beta-catenin in epithelial morphogenesis: conversion of part of avian foot scales into feather buds with a mutated beta-catenin.

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Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California, 90033, USA.


We explored the role of beta-catenin in chicken skin morphogenesis. Initially beta-catenin mRNA was expressed at homogeneous levels in the epithelia over a skin appendage tract field which became transformed into a periodic pattern corresponding to individual primordia. The importance of periodic patterning was shown in scaleless mutants, in which beta-catenin was initially expressed normally, but failed to make a punctuated pattern. To test beta-catenin function, a truncated armadillo fragment was expressed in developing chicken skin from the RCAS retrovirus. This produced a variety of phenotypic changes during epithelial appendage morphogenesis. In apteric and scale-producing regions, new feather buds with normal-appearing follicle sheaths, dermal papillae, and barb ridges were induced. In feather tracts, short, wide, and curled feather buds with abnormal morphology and random orientation formed. Epidermal invaginations and placode-like structures formed in the scale epidermis. PCNA staining and the distribution of molecular markers (SHH, NCAM, Tenascin-C) were characteristic of feather buds. These results suggest that the beta-catenin pathway is involved in modulating epithelial morphogenesis and that increased beta-catenin pathway activity can increase the activity of skin appendage phenotypes. Analogies between regulated and deregulated new growths are discussed.

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