We have used northern blot analysis and in situ hybridization to study the spatial distribution of stromelysin-3 (ST3) expression during mouse embryogenesis. ST3 mRNA was observed in trophoblastic cells at the site of embryonic implantation (7.5-8.5 days) and in a variety of developing embryonic tissues. In these tissues, the highest ST3 expression levels were observed during the development of the external features of limb, tail and snout, and during bone and spinal cord morphogenesis. In limb, tail and snout, ST3 expression was specifically detected in mesenchymal cells lining the basement membrane at the junction of primitive dermis and epidermis, and adjacent to epithelial cells undergoing proliferation and/or apoptosis. In bone, ST3 was expressed in invasive mesenchymal cells and, in the spinal cord in neuroepithelial cells of the floor plate, at the time that this structure is crossed by commissural axons. Altogether, these observations suggest a role for ST3 during embryonic morphogenesis, in tissue remodeling processes associated with cell proliferation, death and/or invasion. Moreover, when compared to urokinase and tissue plasminogen activators, the spatiotemporal pattern of ST3 expression shows some similarities, but was not completely superimposable, suggesting that these genes may cooperate in some developing tissues and have specific functions in others.

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