In tetrapod limbs, an anteriormost digit has common traits of small, short and less-phalange morphology. In this study, we focused on three genes, Mkp3, Sef and Tsukushi (TSK), which have anterior-specific or anterior-prominent expression patterns in the developing limb bud at the autopod-forming stage. The anterior expression is not fixed in the period of limb development, but the expression domains of Mkp3, Sef and TSK change considerably from the distal domain to the anterior domain. This change in expression domains, anterior shift, of these genes involves maintenance of gene expression in the anterior side and downregulation in the posterior side. Manipulated overdose of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) in the presumptive digit 2 region of chick forelimb bud results in elongation of cartilage elements of digit 2, suggesting that attenuated FGF signaling, which Mkp3, Sef, and TSK negatively regulate, provides digit 2-specific traits of morphology. The anterior expression of Mkp3 and Sef but not TSK is conserved also in limb buds of the mouse and gecko, and the anterior shift of these genes, accumulation of their transcripts in the anterior side and appropriate regulation of strength of FGF signaling may control species-specific morphology of the anteriormost digit.
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