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Development. 1997 Dec;124(24):5021-32.

Novel regulatory interactions revealed by studies of murine limb pattern in Wnt-7a and En-1 mutants.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, The Biolabs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Classical embryological experiments have demonstrated that dorsal-ventral patterning of the vertebrate limb is dependent upon ectodermal signals. One such factor is Wnt-7a, a member of the Wnt family of secreted proteins, which is expressed in the dorsal ectoderm. Loss of Wnt-7a results in the appearance of ventral characteristics in the dorsal half of the distal limb. Conversely, En-1, a homeodomain transcription factor, is expressed exclusively in the ventral ectoderm, where it represses Wnt-7a. En-1 mutants have dorsal characteristics in the ventral half of the distal limb. Experiments in the chick suggest that the dorsalizing activity of Wnt-7a in the mesenchyme is mediated through the regulation of the LIM-homeodomain transcription factor Lmx-1. Here we have examined the relationship between Wnt-7a, En-1 and Lmx-1b, a mouse homolog of chick Lmx-1, in patterning the mammalian limb. We find that Wnt-7a is required for Lmx-1b expression in distal limb mesenchyme, and that Lmx-1b activation in the ventral mesenchyme of En-1 mutants requires Wnt-7a. Consistent with Lmx-1b playing a primary role in dorsalization of the limb, we find a direct correlation between regions of the anterior distal limb in which Lmx-lb is misregulated during limb development and the localization of dorsal-ventral patterning defects in Wnt-7a and En-1 mutant adults. Thus, ectopic Wnt-7a expression and Lmx-1b activation underlie the dorsalized En-1 phenotype, although our analysis also reveals a Wnt-7a-independent activity for En-1 in the repression of pigmentation in the ventral epidermis. Finally, we demonstrate that ectopic expression of Wnt-7a in the ventral limb ectoderm of En-1 mutants results in the formation of a second, ventral apical ectodermal ridge (AER) at the junction between Wnt-7a-expressing and nonexpressing ectoderm. Unlike the normal AER, ectopic AER formation is dependent upon Wnt-7a activity, indicating that distinct genetic mechanisms may be involved in primary and secondary AER formation.

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