The mouse Engrailed-1 gene and ventral limb patterning

Abstract

DURING vertebrate limb development, positional information must be specified along three distinct axes. Although much progress has been made in our understanding of the molecular interactions involved in anterior–posterior and proximal–distal limb patterning, less is known about dorsal–ventral patterning1–3. The genes Wnt-7a and Lmx-1, which are expressed in dorsal limb ectoderm and mesqderm, respectively, are thought to be important regulators of dorsal limb differentiation4–6. Whether a complementary set of molecules controls ventral limb development has not been clear. Here we report that Engrailed-1, a homeodomain-containing transcription factor expressed in embryonic ventral limb ectoderm7–8, is essential for ventral limb patterning. Loss of Engrailed-1 function in mice results in dorsal transformations of ventral paw structures, and in subtle alterations along the proximal–distal limb axis. Engrailed-1 seems to act in part by repressing dorsal differentiation induced by Wnt-7a, and is essential for proper formation of the apical ectodermal ridge.

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