A chicken gene carrying a homeobox highly homologous to the Drosophila muscle segment homeobox (msh) gene was isolated and designated as Msx-1. Conceptual translation from the longest ORF gave a protein of 259 amino acids lacking the conserved hexapeptide. Northern analysis detected a single 2.6 kb transcript. As early as day 2 of incubation, the transcript was detected but was not found in adult tissue. In situ hybridization analysis revealed that Msx-1 expression is closely related to a particular mesenchymal cell lineage during limb bud formation. In early stage embryos, Msx-1 was expressed in the somatopleure. When primordial mesenchyme cells for limb bud were generated from the Wolffian ridge of the somatopleure, Msx-1 expression began to diminish in the posterior half of the limb bud then in the presumptive cartilage-forming mesenchyme. In developing limb buds, remarkable expression was seen in the apical ectodermal ridge (AER), which is responsible for the sustained outgrowth and development of the limb. The Msx-1 transcripts were found in the limb mesenchymal cells in the region covering the necrotic zone and ectodermal cells overlying such mesenchymal cells. Both ectodermal and mesenchymal expression in limb bud were rapidly suppressed by local treatment of retinoic acid which can generate mirror-image duplication of digits. This indicates that retinoic acid alters the marginal presumptive non-cartilage forming mesenchyme cell lineage through suppression of Msx-1 expression.

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