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J Exp Zool. 1990 Apr;254(1):38-47.

Explanation for naturally occurring supernumerary limbs in amphibians.

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Developmental Biology Center, University of California, Irvine 92717.


The occasional occurrence of high frequencies of limb abnormalities, including extra limbs, in natural populations of amphibians has long been a puzzle. In this paper we report the discovery of a population in which such limb abnormalities appear to be caused by a parasitic flatworm (trematode) that uses amphibians as intermediate hosts. The cercarial larval stage of the trematode attacks amphibians, penetrating the skin to form cysts (metacercariae). The cysts are preferentially localized in the cloacal region, including the developing hind limb regions in larvae of both frogs (Hyla regilla) and salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum). A wide range of limb abnormalities are seen, including duplicated limb structures ranging from extra digits to several extra whole limbs. We hypothesize that these limb abnormalities result from localized regulatory responses of developing and regenerating limb tissues to mechanical disruption caused by the trematode cysts. We have tested this idea by implanting inert resin beads into developing limb buds of frogs and salamanders. Since this treatment can cause supernumerary limb structures, our hypothesis is sufficient to explain the naturally occurring extra limbs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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