The products of Hox-4 genes appear to encode position in developing vertebrate limbs. In chick embryos, a number of different signalling regions when grafted to wing buds lead to duplicated digit patterns. We grafted tissue from the equivalent regions in mouse embryos to chick wing buds and assayed expression of Hox-4 genes in both the mouse cells in the grafts and in the chick cells in the responding limb bud using species specific probes. Tissue from the mouse limb polarizing region and anterior primitive streak respecify anterior chick limb bud cells to give posterior structures and lead to activation of all the genes in the complex. Mouse neural tube and genital tubercle grafts, which give much less extensive changes in pattern, do not activate 5′-located Hox-4 genes. Analysis of expression of Hox-4 genes in mouse cells in the grafted signalling regions reveals no relationship between expression of these genes and strength of their signalling activity. Endogenous signals in the chick limb bud activate Hox-4 genes in grafts of mouse anterior limb cells when placed posteriorly and in grafts of mouse anterior primitive streak tissue. The activation of the same gene network by different signalling regions points to a similarity in patterning mechanisms along the axes of the vertebrate body.

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