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Mech Dev. 2004 Feb;121(2):157-71.

Distinct Wnt members regulate the hierarchical morphogenesis of skin regions (spinal tract) and individual feathers.

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Department of Pathology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, HMR 305D, 2011 Zonal Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Skin morphogenesis occurs in successive stages. First, the skin forms distinct regions (macropatterning). Then skin appendages with particular shapes and sizes form within each region (micropatterning). Ectopic DKK expression inhibited dermis formation in feather tracts and individual buds, implying the importance of Wnts, and prompted the assessment of individual Wnt functions at different morphogenetic levels using the feather model. Wnt 1, 3a, 5a and 11 initially were expressed moderately throughout the feather tract then were up-regulated in restricted regions following two modes: Wnt 1 and 3a became restricted to the placodal epithelium, then to the elongated distal bud epidermis; Wnt 5a and 11 intensified in the inter-tract region and interprimordia epidermis or dermis, respectively, then appeared in the elongated distal bud dermis. Their role in feather tract formation was determined using RCAS mediated misexpression in ovo at E2/E3. Their function in periodic feather patterning was examined by misexpression in vitro using reconstituted E7 skin explant cultures. Wnt 1 reduced spinal tract size, but enhanced feather primordia size. Wnt 3a increased dermal thickness, expanded the spinal tract size, reduced interbud domain spacing, and produced non-tapering "giant buds". Wnt 11 and dominant negative Wnt 1 enhanced interbud spacing, and generated thinner buds. In cultured dermal fibroblasts, Wnt 1 and 3a stimulated cell proliferation and activated the canonical beta-catenin pathway. Wnt 11 inhibited proliferation but stimulated migration. Wnt 5a and 11 triggered the JNK pathway. Thus distinctive Wnts have positive and negative roles in forming the dermis, tracts, interbud spacing and the growth and shaping of individual buds.

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