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Dev Biol. 2004 Jun 1;270(1):94-105.

EphA4, RhoB and the molecular development of feather buds are maintained by the integrity of the actin cytoskeleton.

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Department of Veterinary Basic Science, Royal Veterinary College, London NW1 0TU, UK.


The development of feather buds is a highly ordered process involving epithelial-mesenchymal signalling. Cellular morphology is determined by the actin cytoskeleton, which is controlled by networks of regulators such as the GTPases. EphA4 belongs to a receptor tyrosine kinase family that has been consistently shown to regulate the cytoskeleton via Rho family GTPases in neural development and is expressed in early stages of feather bud development though its role has not been defined. We therefore used an in vitro skin culture system to interfere with EphA4 levels in feather buds using anti-sense oligonucleotides, demonstrating a severe effect on both their number and morphological form. Analysis of the Rho family of GTPases revealed that this effect was mediated by the GTPase RhoB, the expression of which was altered in response to altered levels of EphA4. In addition, the inhibition of RhoB mimicked the effects of reduced EphA4 levels on feather development. Significantly, manipulation of cytoskeletal dynamics revealed that those cells undergoing morphogenetic change regulate the patterning signals responsible for initiating feather development. We propose that this molecular maintenance mechanism between EphA4-RhoB and the actin cytoskeleton converges or coordinates with other morphogenic signalling systems to control feather bud development.

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