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Dev Biol. 2008 Sep 15;321(2):319-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.06.018. Epub 2008 Jun 20.

Limb bud and flank mesoderm have distinct "physical phenotypes" that may contribute to limb budding.

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  • 1Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Limb bud outgrowth in chicken embryos is initiated during the third day of development by Fibroblast Growth Factor 8 (FGF8) produced by the newly formed apical ectodermal ridge (AER). One of the earliest effects of this induction is a change in the properties of the limb field mesoderm leading to bulging of the limb buds from the body wall. Heintzelman et al. [Heintzelman, K.F., Phillips, H.M., Davis, G.S., 1978. Liquid-tissue behavior and differential cohesiveness during chick limb budding. J. Embryol. Exp. Morphol. 47, 1-15.] suggested that budding of the limbs is caused by a higher liquid-like cohesivity of limb bud tissue compared with flank. We sought additional evidence relevant to this hypothesis by performing direct measurements of the effective surface tension, a measure of relative tissue cohesivity, of 4-day embryonic chicken wing and leg bud mesenchymal tissue, and adjacent flank mesoderm. As predicted, the two types of limb tissues were 1.5- to 2-fold more cohesive than the flank tissue. These differences paralleled cell number and volume density differences: 4-day limb buds had 2- to 2.5-fold as many cells per unit area of tissue as surrounding flank, a difference also seen at 3 days, when limb budding begins. Exposure of flank tissue to exogenous FGF8 for 24 h increased its cell number and raised its cohesivity to limb-like values. Four-day flank tissue exhibited a novel and unique active rebound response to compression, which was suppressed by the drug latrunculin and therefore dependent on an intact actin cytoskeleton. Correspondingly, flank at this stage expressed high levels of alpha-smooth muscle actin (SMA) mRNA and protein and a dense network of microfilaments. Treatment of flank with FGF8 eliminated the rebound response. We term material properties of tissues, such as cohesivity and mechanical excitability, the "physical phenotype", and propose that changes thereof are driving forces of morphogenesis. Our results indicate that two independent aspects of the physical phenotype of flank mesoderm can be converted to a limb-like state in response to treatment with FGF8. The higher tissue cohesivity induced by this effect will cause the incipient limb bud to phase separate from the surrounding flank, while the active mechanical response of the flank could help ensure that the limb bud bulges out from, rather than becoming engulfed by, this less cohesive tissue.

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