Bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) has been implicated in the polarizing region signalling pathway, which specifies pattern across the antero-posterior of the developing vertebrate limb. Retinoic acid and Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) can act as polarizing signals; when applied anteriorly in the limb bud, they induce mirror-image digit duplications and ectopic Bmp-2 expression in anterior mesenchyme. In addition, the two signals can activate Fgf-4 expression in anterior ridge and HoxD expression in anterior mesenchyme. We tested the role of BMP-2 in this signalling cascade by ectopically expressing human BMP-2 (hBMP-2) at the anterior margin of the early wing bud using a replication defective retroviral vector, and found that ectopic expression of Fgf-4 was induced in the anterior part of the apical ectodermal ridge, followed later by ectopic expression of Hoxd-11 and Hoxd-13 in anterior mesenchyme. This suggests that BMP-2 is involved in regulating Fgf-4 and HoxD gene expression in the normal limb bud. Ectopically expressed hBMP-2 also induced duplication of digit 2 and bifurcation of digit 3, but could not produce the mirror-image digit duplications obtained with SHH-expressing cells. These results suggest that BMP-2 may be involved primarily in maintenance of the ridge, and in the link between patterning and outgrowth of the limb bud.

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