The homeobox-containing genes GHox-7 and GHox-8 have been proposed to play fundamental roles in limb development. The expression of GHox-8, by the apical ridge cells, and GHox-7, in the subridge mesoderm, suggests the involvement of these two genes in limb outgrowth and proximo-distal pattern formation. A straightforward way to test this is to remove the apical ridge. Here we report the relationship between the mesodermal expression of GHox-7 and GHox-8 and the apical ectodermal ridge in the chick limb bud. The data from ridge removal experiments indicate that there are at least two domains of GHox-7 expression in the apical limb bud mesoderm. The posterior subridge GHox-7 domain in the progress zone requires the influence of the apical ridge for continued expression, while the anterior GHox-7 domain continues expression after ridge removal. Posterior subridge mesoderm is exquisitely sensitive to the loss of the ridge in that GHox-7 expression by these cells is reduced in only two hours and undetectable by three hours after ridge removal. It would appear that one of the ways progress zone cells respond to the apical ridge signal is by expressing GHox-7. The loss of ridge influence whether by growth at the apex or by ridge removal is followed by an unusually rapid decline in detectable GHox-7 transcripts. Maintenance of GHox-8 expression by the anterior mesoderm appears to be independent of the presence of the apical ridge.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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