Eph receptors and their ligands, the ephrins, have been implicated in early patterning and axon guidance in vertebrate embryos. Members of these families play pivotal roles in the formation of topographic maps in the central nervous system, the formation of brain commissures, and in the guidance of neural crest cells and motor axons through the anterior half of the somites. Here, we report a highly dynamic expression pattern of the chick EphA7 gene in the developing limb. Expression is detected in discrete domains of the dorsal mesenchyme from 3 days of incubation. The expressing cells are adjacent to the routes where axons grow to innervate the limb at several key points: the region of plexus formation, the bifurcation between dorsal and ventral fascicles, and the pathway followed by axons innervating the dorsal muscle mass. These results suggested a role for EphA7 in cell-cell contact-mediated signalling in dorsal limb patterning and/or axon guidance. We carried out experimental manipulations in the chick embryo wing bud to alter the dorsoventral patterning of the limb. The analyses of EphA7 expression and innervation in the operated wings indicate that a signal emanating from the dorsal ectoderm regulates EphA7 in such a way that, in its absence, the wing bud lacks EphA7 expression and shows innervation defects at the regions where the gene was downregulated. EphA7 downregulation in the dorsal mesenchyme after dorsal ectoderm removal is more rapid than that of Lmx-1, the gene known to mediate dorsalisation in response to the ectodermal signal. These results add a new gene to the dorsalisation signalling pathway in the limb. Moreover, they implicate the Eph receptor family in the patterning and innervation of the developing limb, extending its role in axon pathfinding to the distal periphery.

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