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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2016 Mar;326(2):110-24. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.22669. Epub 2016 Feb 26.

Hedgehog inhibition causes complete loss of limb outgrowth and transformation of digit identity in Xenopus tropicalis.

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Department of Biology, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut.
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.


The study of the tetrapod limb has contributed greatly to our understanding of developmental pathways and how changes to these pathways affect the evolution of morphology. Most of our understanding of tetrapod limb development comes from research on amniotes, with far less known about mechanisms of limb development in amphibians. To better understand the mechanisms of limb development in anuran amphibians, we used cyclopamine to inhibit Hedgehog signaling at various stages of development in the western clawed frog, Xenopus tropicalis, and observed resulting morphologies. We also analyzed gene expression changes resulting from similar experiments in Xenopus laevis. Inhibition of Hedgehog signaling in X. tropicalis results in limb abnormalities including reduced digit number, missing skeletal elements, and complete absence of limbs. In addition, posterior digits assume an anterior identity by developing claws that are usually only found on anterior digits, confirming Sonic hedgehog's role in digit identity determination. Thus, Sonic hedgehog appears to play mechanistically separable roles in digit number specification and digit identity specification as in other studied tetrapods. The complete limb loss observed in response to reduced Hedgehog signaling in X. tropicalis, however, is striking, as this functional role for Hedgehog signaling has not been found in any other tetrapod. This changed mechanism may represent a substantial developmental constraint to digit number evolution in frogs. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 9999B:XX-XX, 2016.

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