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Dev Biol. 2000 Mar 15;219(2):224-36.

Influence of FGF4 on digit morphogenesis during limb development in the mouse.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70118, USA.


Much of what we currently know about digit morphogenesis during limb development is deduced from embryonic studies in the chick. In this study, we used ex utero surgical procedures to study digit morphogenesis during mouse embryogenesis. Our studies reveal some similarities; however, we have found considerable differences in how the chick and the mouse autopods respond to experimentation. First, we are not able to induce ectopic digit formation from interdigital cells as a result of wounding or TGFbeta-1 application in the mouse, in contrast to what is observed in the chick. Second, FGF4, which inhibits the formation of ectopic digits in the chick, induces a digit bifurcation response in the mouse. We demonstrate with cell marking studies that this bifurcation response results from a reorganization of the prechondrogenic tip of the digit rudiment. The FGF4 effect on digit morphogenesis correlates with changes in the expression of a number of genes, including Msx1, Igf2, and the posterior members of the HoxD cluster. In addition, the bifurcation response is digit-specific, being restricted to digit IV. We propose that FGF4 is an endogenous signal essential for skeletal branching morphogenesis in the mouse. This work stresses the existence of major differences between the chick and the mouse in how digit morphogenesis is regulated and is thus consistent with the view that vertebrate digit evolution is a relatively recent event. Finally, we discuss the relationship between the digit IV bifurcation restriction and the placement of the metapterygial axis in the evolution of the tetrapod limb.

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