The distribution of Hoxb-8 transcripts through the chick flank and early forelimb mirrors the distribution of polarizing activity in the flank at these early stages. Polarizing activity displayed by Hoxb-8-expressing tissue is only realised when placed adjacent to the AER and appears to be mediated through Shh induction, suggesting that Hoxb-8 may lie genetically upstream of Shh. Accordingly, Hoxb-8 expression is rapidly induced by retinoic acid (RA) treatment in the anterior of the forelimb in a spatial and temporal manner that is consistent with the induction of Shh and formation of the ZPA. Furthermore, inhibition of RA synthesis in the flank downregulates the expression of endogenous Hoxb-8 and results in the loss of Shh expression. However, once the ZPA has become established the posterior limb mesoderm displays resistance to the induction of Hoxb-8 expression. Grafting of ZPA cells to the anterior of a host limb renders the host anterior tissue resistant to RA-induced Hoxb-8 expression. These results indicate that Hoxb-8 expression may be regulated by the established ZPA through a negative feedback loop. The anterior AER also secretes an inhibitory factor, preventing RA-induced or already established Hoxb-8 expression in the cells immediately underneath the AER. Consistent with a role for Hoxb-8 in positioning of the forelimb ZPA, Hoxb-8 expression is not seen in RA-induced duplications at the anterior of the hindlimb. However, grafting of Hoxb-8-expressing tissue to the hindlimb can lead to Shh expression and similar duplications, suggesting that factors mediating ZPA formation are very similar in both wing and leg.

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