During early stages of normal chick limb development, the homeobox-containing (HOX) gene GHox-4.6 is expressed throughout the posterior mesoderm of the wing bud from which most of the skeletal elements including the digits will develop, whereas GHox-8 is expressed in the anterior limb bud mesoderm which will not give rise to skeletal elements. In the present study, we have examined the expression of GHox-4.6 and GHox-8 in the wing buds of two polydactylous mutant chick embryos, diplopodia-5 and talpid2, from which supernumerary digits develop from anterior limb mesoderm, and have also examined the expression of these genes in response to polarizing zone grafts and retinoic acid-coated bead implants which induce the formation of supernumerary digits from anterior limb mesoderm. We have found that the formation of supernumerary digits from the anterior mesoderm in mutant and experimentally induced polydactylous limb buds is preceded by the ectopic expression of GHox-4.6 in the anterior mesoderm and the coincident suppression of GHox-8 expression in the anterior mesoderm. These observations suggest that the anterior mesoderm of the polydactylous limb buds is “posteriorized” and support the suggestion that GHox-8 and GHox-4.6, respectively, are involved in specifying the anterior non-skeletal and posterior digit-forming regions of the limb bud. Although the anterior mesodermal domain of GHox-8 expression is severely impaired in the mutant and experimentally induced polydactylous limb buds, this gene is expressed by the prolonged, thickened apical ectodermal ridges of the polydactylous limb buds that extend along the distal anterior as well as the distal posterior mesoderm.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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