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Curr Biol. 2003 Oct 14;13(20):1830-6.

Fgf signaling controls the number of phalanges and tip formation in developing digits.

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Division of Cell and Developmental Biology, School of Life Sciences, Wellcome Trust Building/Medical Sciences Institute complex, University of Dundee, Dow Street, DD1 5EH, Dundee, United Kingdom.


Tetrapods have two pairs of limbs, each typically with five digits, each of which has a defined number of phalanges derived from an archetypal formula. Much progress has been made in understanding vertebrate limb initiation and the patterning processes that determine digit number in developing limb buds, but little is known about how phalange number is controlled. We and others previously showed that an additional phalange can be induced in a chick toe if sonic hedgehog protein is applied in between developing digit primordia. Here we show that formation of an additional phalange is associated with prolonged Fgf8 expression in the overlying apical ridge and that an Fgf Receptor inhibitor blocks its formation. The additional phalange is produced by elongation and segmentation of the penultimate phalange, suggesting that the digit tip forms when Fgf signaling ceases by a special mechanism, possibly involving Wnt signaling. Consistent with this, Fgfs inhibit tip formation whereas attenuation of Fgf signaling induces tip formation prematurely. We propose that duration of Fgf signaling from the ridge, responsible for elongation of digit primordia, coupled with a characteristic periodicity of joint formation, generates the appropriate number of phalanges in each digit. We also propose that the process that generates the digit tips is independent of that which generates more proximal phalanges. This has implications for understanding human limb congenital malformations and evolution of digit diversity.

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