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J Anat. 2010 Jun;216(6):683-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01233.x. Epub 2010 Apr 14.

Comparison of Iroquois gene expression in limbs/fins of vertebrate embryos.

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Department of Biology & Biochemistry, University of Bath, Somerset, UK.


In Drosophila, Iroquois (Irx) genes have various functions including the specification of the identity of wing veins. Vertebrate Iroquois (Irx) genes have been reported to be expressed in the developing digits of mouse limbs. Here we carry out a phylogenetic analysis of vertebrate Irx genes and compare expression in developing limbs of mouse, chick and human embryos and in zebrafish pectoral fin buds. We confirm that the six Irx gene families in vertebrates are well defined and that Clusters A and B are duplicates; in contrast, Irx1 and 3, Irx2 and 5, and Irx4 and 6 are paralogs. All Irx genes in mouse and chick are expressed in developing limbs. Detailed comparison of the expression patterns in mouse and chick shows that expression patterns of genes in the same cluster are generally similar but paralogous genes have different expression patterns. Mouse and chick Irx1 are expressed in digit condensations, whereas mouse and chick Irx6 are expressed interdigitally. The timing of Irx1 expression in individual digits in mouse and chick is different. Irx1 is also expressed in digit condensations in developing human limbs, thus showing conservation of expression of this gene in higher vertebrates. In zebrafish, Irx genes of all but six of the families are expressed in early stage pectoral fin buds but not at later stages, suggesting that these genes are not involved in patterning distal structures in zebrafish fins.

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