HOXA13 and HOXD13 expression during development of the syndactylous digits in the marsupial Macropus eugenii.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Kangaroos and wallabies have specialised limbs that allow for their hopping mode of locomotion. The hindlimbs differentiate much later in development but become much larger than the forelimbs. The hindlimb autopod has only four digits, the fourth of which is greatly elongated, while digits two and three are syndactylous. We investigated the expression of two genes, HOXA13 and HOXD13, that are crucial for digit patterning in mice during formation of the limbs of the tammar wallaby. RESULTS: We describe the development of the tammar limbs at key stages before birth. There was marked heterochrony and the hindlimb developed more slowly than the forelimb. Both tammar HOXA13 and HOXD13 have two exons as in humans, mice and chickens. HOXA13 had an early and distal mRNA distribution in the tammar limb bud as in the mouse, but forelimb expression preceded that in the hindlimb. HOXD13 mRNA was expressed earlier in the forelimb than the hindlimb and was predominantly detected in the interdigital tissues of the forelimb. In contrast, the hindlimb had a more restricted expression pattern that appeared to be expressed at discrete points at both posterior and anterior margins of the limb bud, and was unlike expression seen in the mouse and the chicken. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first examination of HOXA and HOXD gene expression in a marsupial. The gene structure and predicted proteins were highly conserved with their eutherian orthologues. Interestingly, despite the morphological differences in hindlimb patterning, there were no modifications to the polyalanine tract of either HOXA13 or HOXD13 when compared to those of the mouse and bat but there was a marked difference between the tammar and the other mammals in the region of the first polyserine tract of HOXD13. There were also altered expression domains for both genes in the developing tammar limbs compared to the chicken and mouse. Together these findings suggest that the timing of HOX gene expression may contribute to the heterochrony of the forelimb and hindlimb and that alteration to HOX domains may influence phenotypic differences that lead to the development of marsupial syndactylous digits.
Project description:The fin-to-limb transition represents one of the major vertebrate morphological innovations associated with the transition from aquatic to terrestrial life and is an attractive model for gaining insights into the mechanisms of morphological diversity between species. One of the characteristic features of limbs is the presence of digits at their extremities. Although most tetrapods have limbs with five digits (pentadactyl limbs), palaeontological data indicate that digits emerged in lobed fins of early tetrapods, which were polydactylous. How the transition to pentadactyl limbs occurred remains unclear. Here we show that the mutually exclusive expression of the mouse genes Hoxa11 and Hoxa13, which were previously proposed to be involved in the origin of the tetrapod limb, is required for the pentadactyl state. We further demonstrate that the exclusion of Hoxa11 from the Hoxa13 domain relies on an enhancer that drives antisense transcription at the Hoxa11 locus after activation by HOXA13 and HOXD13. Finally, we show that the enhancer that drives antisense transcription of the mouse Hoxa11 gene is absent in zebrafish, which, together with the largely overlapping expression of hoxa11 and hoxa13 genes reported in fish, suggests that this enhancer emerged in the course of the fin-to-limb transition. On the basis of the polydactyly that we observed after expression of Hoxa11 in distal limbs, we propose that the evolution of Hoxa11 regulation contributed to the transition from polydactyl limbs in stem-group tetrapods to pentadactyl limbs in extant tetrapods.
Project description:Sonic hedgehog (Shh) plays an integral role in both the anterior-posterior (A-P) patterning and expansion of developing vertebrate limbs through a feedback loop involving Fgfs, Bmps, and Gremlin. In bat limbs A-P patterning and the size of the digital field are unique. The posterior digits of the forelimb are elongated and joined by tissue, whereas the thumb is short. The hindlimb digits often are uniform in length. Here, we reveal novel expression patterns for Shh and its target, Patched 1 (Ptc1), during limb development in two bat species. Early Shh expression in the zone of polarizing activity is wider in the bat forelimb than in the mouse forelimb, correlating with the reported expansion of Fgf8 expression in the apical ectodermal ridge and the early loss of symmetry in the bat forelimb. Later in limb development, Shh and Ptc1 expression is reinitiated in the interdigital tissue. Shh is graded along the A-P axis in forelimb and is expressed uniformly at a lower level across the hindlimb interdigital tissue. We also show that the reported Fgf8 expression in the interdigital tissue precedes the expression of Shh. We propose that the reinitiation of Shh and Fgf8 expression in bat limbs reactivates the Shh-Fgf feedback loop in the interdigital tissue of stage 16 bat embryos. The cell survival and proliferation signals provided by the Shh-Fgf signaling loop probably contribute to the lengthening of the posterior forelimb digits, the survival of the forelimb interdigital webbing, and the extension of the hindlimb digits to a uniform length.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Marsupial syndactyly is a curious morphology of the foot found in all species of diprotodontian and peramelemorph marsupials. It is traditionally defined as a condition in which digits II and III of the foot are bound by skin and are reduced. Past treatments of marsupial syndactyly have not considered the implications of this unique morphology for broader issues of digit development and evolution, and the ongoing debate regarding its phylogenetic meaning lacks a broad empirical basis. This study undertakes the first interdisciplinary characterisation of syndactyly, using variance/covariance matrix comparisons of morphometric measurements, locomotor indices, ossification sequences, and re-assessment of the largely anecdotal data on the phylogenetic distribution of tarsal/metatarsal articulations and "incipient syndactyly". RESULTS: Syndactylous digits have virtually identical variance/covariance matrices and display heterochronic ossification timing with respect to digits IV/V. However, this does not impact on overall locomotor adaptation patterns in the syndactylous foot as determined by analysis of locomotor predictor ratios. Reports of incipient syndactyly in some marsupial clades could not be confirmed; contrary to previous claims, syndactyly does not appear to impact on tarsal bone arrangement. CONCLUSION: The results suggest that marsupial syndactyly originates from a constraint that is rooted in early digit ontogeny and results in evolution of the syndactylous digits as a highly integrated unit. Although convergent evolution appears likely, syndactyly in Diprotodontia and Peramelemorpha may occur through homologous developmental processes. We argue that the term "syndactyly" is a misnomer because the marsupial condition only superficially resembles its name-giving human soft-tissue syndactyly.
Project description:In the tetrapod limb, the digits (fingers or toes) are the elements most subject to morphological diversification in response to functional adaptations. However, despite their functional importance, the mechanisms controlling digit morphology remain poorly understood. Here we have focused on understanding the special morphology of the thumb (digit 1), the acquisition of which was an important adaptation of the human hand. To this end, we have studied the limbs of the Hoxa13 mouse mutant that specifically fail to form digit 1. We show that, consistent with the role of Hoxa13 in Hoxd transcriptional regulation, the expression of Hoxd13 in Hoxa13 mutant limbs does not extend into the presumptive digit 1 territory, which is therefore devoid of distal Hox transcripts, a circumstance that can explain its agenesis. The loss of Hoxd13 expression, exclusively in digit 1 territory, correlates with increased Gli3 repressor activity, a Hoxd negative regulator, resulting from increased Gli3 transcription that, in turn, is due to the release from the negative modulation exerted by Hox13 paralogs on Gli3 regulatory sequences. Our results indicate that Hoxa13 acts hierarchically to initiate the formation of digit 1 by reducing Gli3 transcription and by enabling expansion of the 5'Hoxd second expression phase, thereby establishing anterior-posterior asymmetry in the handplate. Our work uncovers a mutual antagonism between Gli3 and Hox13 paralogs that has important implications for Hox and Gli3 gene regulation in the context of development and evolution.
Project description:How the hand and digits originated from fish fins during the Devonian fin-to-limb transition remains unsolved. Controversy in this conundrum stems from the scarcity of ontogenetic data from extant lobe-finned fishes. We report the patterning of an autopod-like domain by hoxa13 during fin development of the Australian lungfish, the most closely related extant fish relative of tetrapods. Differences from tetrapod limbs include the absence of digit-specific expansion of hoxd13 and hand2 and distal limitation of alx4 and pax9, which potentially evolved through an enhanced response to shh signaling in limbs. These developmental patterns indicate that the digit program originated in postaxial fin radials and later expanded anteriorly inside of a preexisting autopod-like domain during the evolution of limbs. Our findings provide a genetic framework for the transition of fins into limbs that supports the significance of classical models proposing a bending of the tetrapod metapterygial axis.
Project description:Background: Most animal studies of spinal cord injury are conducted in quadrupeds, usually rodents. It is unclear to what extent functional results from such studies can be translated to bipedal species such as humans because bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion involve very different patterns of spinal control of muscle coordination. Bipedalism requires upright trunk stability and coordinated postural muscle control; it has been suggested that peripheral sensory input is less important in humans than quadrupeds for recovery of locomotion following spinal injury. Methods: We used an Australian macropod marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropuseugenii), because tammars exhibit an upright trunk posture, human-like alternating hindlimb movement when swimming and bipedal over-ground locomotion. Regulation of their muscle movements is more similar to humans than quadrupeds. At different postnatal (P) days (P7-60) tammars received a complete mid-thoracic spinal cord transection. Morphological repair, as well as functional use of hind limbs, was studied up to the time of their pouch exit. Results: Growth of axons across the lesion restored supraspinal innervation in animals injured up to 3 weeks of age but not in animals injured after 6 weeks of age. At initial pouch exit (P180), the young injured at P7-21 were able to hop on their hind limbs similar to age-matched controls and to swim albeit with a different stroke. Those animals injured at P40-45 appeared to be incapable of normal use of hind limbs even while still in the pouch. Conclusions: Data indicate that the characteristic over-ground locomotion of tammars provides a model in which regrowth of supraspinal connections across the site of injury can be studied in a bipedal animal. Forelimb weight-bearing motion and peripheral sensory input appear not to compensate for lack of hindlimb control, as occurs in quadrupeds. Tammars may be a more appropriate model for studies of therapeutic interventions relevant to humans.
Project description:The combinatorial expression of Hox genes along the body axes is a major determinant of cell fate and plays a pivotal role in generating the animal body plan. Loss of HOXA13 and HOXD13 transcription factors (HOX13) leads to digit agenesis in mice, but how HOX13 proteins regulate transcriptional outcomes and confer identity to the distal-most limb cells has remained elusive. Here, we report on the genome-wide profiling of HOXA13 and HOXD13 in vivo binding and changes of the transcriptome and chromatin state in the transition from the early to the late-distal limb developmental program, as well as in Hoxa13-/-; Hoxd13-/- limbs. Our results show that proper termination of the early limb transcriptional program and activation of the late-distal limb program are coordinated by the dual action of HOX13 on cis-regulatory modules.
Project description:The genetic mechanisms that regulate the complex morphogenesis of generating cartilage elements in correct positions with precise shapes during organogenesis, fundamental issues in developmental biology, are still not well understood. By focusing on the developing mouse limb, we confirm the importance of transcription factors encoded by the Sall gene family in proper limb morphogenesis, and further show that they have overlapping activities in regulating regional morphogenesis in the autopod. Sall1/Sall3 double null mutants exhibit a loss of digit1 as well as a loss or fusion of digit2 and digit3, metacarpals and carpals in the autopod. We show that Sall activity affects different pathways, including the Shh signaling pathway, as well as the Hox network. Shh signaling in the mesenchyme is partially impaired in the Sall mutant limbs. Additionally, our data suggest an antagonism between Sall1-Sall3 and Hoxa13-Hoxd13. We demonstrate that expression of Epha3 and Epha4 is downregulated in the Sall1/Sall3 double null mutants, and, conversely, is upregulated in Hoxa13 and Hoxd13 mutants. Moreover, the expression of Sall1 and Sall3 is upregulated in Hoxa13 and Hoxd13 mutants. Furthermore, by using DNA-binding assays, we show that Sall and Hox compete for a target sequence in the Epha4 upstream region. In conjunction with the Shh pathway, the antagonistic interaction between Hoxa13-Hoxd13 and Sall1-Sall3 in the developing limb may contribute to the fine-tuning of local Hox activity that leads to proper morphogenesis of each cartilage element of the vertebrate autopod.
Project description:Developmentally regulated programmed cell death sculpts the limbs and other embryonic organs in vertebrates. One intriguing example of species-specific differences in apoptotic extent is observed in the tissue between the digits. In chicks and mice, bone morphogenetic proteins (Bmps) trigger apoptosis of the interdigital mesenchyme, leading to freed digits, whereas in ducks, Bmp antagonists inhibit the apoptotic program, resulting in webbed feet. Here, we show that the phyllostomid bat Carollia perspicillata utilizes a distinct mechanism for maintaining interdigit tissue. We find that bat forelimb and hindlimb interdigital tissues express Bmp signaling components but that only bat hindlimbs undergo interdigital apoptosis. Strikingly, the retention of interdigital webbing in the bat forelimb is correlated with a unique pattern of Fgf8 expression in addition to the Bmp inhibitor Gremlin. By using a functional assay, we show that maintenance of interdigit tissue in the bat wing depends on the combined effects of high levels of Fgf signaling and inhibition of Bmp signaling. Our data also indicate that although there is not a conserved mechanism for maintaining interdigit tissue across amniotes, the expression in the bat forelimb interdigits of Gremlin and Fgf8 suggests that these key molecular changes contributed to the evolution of the bat wing.
Project description:The combinatorial expression of the Hox genes along the body axes, referred to as the HOX code, is a major determinant of cell fate and plays a prevailing role in generating the animal body plan. In developing limb buds, the paralogous group 13 genes of the HoxA and HoxD clusters are essential for patterning the distal-most limb structures, the digits. Inactivation of HOXA13 and HOXD13 transcription factors (HOX13) leads to complete digit agenesis in mice, but how HOX13 regulate transcriptional outcomes and confer identity to the distal-most limb cells has remained elusive. Here we performed genome-wide profiling of HOX13 by chromatin immunoprecipitation and analyzed the transcriptome and chromatin state of wild type early and late-distal limb buds, as well as Hoxa13-/-;Hoxd13-/- compound mutant limb buds. Our results show that inactivation of HOX13 impairs the activation and repression of putative cis-regulatory modules specific to the late-distal limb cells. Loss of HOX13 also disrupts the specific, spatial patterning of gene expression along the proximal-distal axis of the developing limb buds. These results show that proper termination of the early limb transcriptional program and activation of the late-distal limb program are coordinated by the dual action of HOX13 on cis-regulatory modules. Overall design: dissected distal parts of e11.5 forelimb, of wild-type as well as Hoxa13-/-;Hoxd13-/- mice