In this work we have analyzed the presence of elastic components in the extracellular matrices of the developing chick leg bud. The distributions of elastin and fibrillin were studied immunohistochemically in whole-mount preparations using confocal laser microscopy. The association of these constituents of the elastic matrix with other components of the extracellular matrix was also studied, using several additional antibodies. Our results reveal the transient presence of an elastin-rich scaffold of extracellular matrix fibrillar material in association with the establishment of the cartilaginous skeleton of the leg bud. The scaffold consisted of elastin-positive fibers extending from the ectodermal surface of the limb to the central cartilage-forming regions and between adjacent cartilages. Fibrillin immunolabeling was negative in this fibrillar scaffold while other components of the extracellular matrix including: tenascin, laminin and collagens type I, type III and type VI; appeared codistributed with elastin in some regions of the scaffold. Progressive changes in the spatial pattern of distribution of the elastin-positive scaffold were detected in explant cultures in which one expects a modification in the mechanical stresses of the tissues related to growth. A scaffold of elastin comparable to that found in vivo was also observed in high-density micromass cultures of isolated limb mesodermal cells. In this case the elastic fibers are observed filling the spaces located between the cartilaginous nodules. The fibers become reoriented and attach to the ectodermal basal surface when an ectodermal fragment is located at the top of the growing micromass. Our results suggest that the formation of the cartilaginous skeleton of the limb involves the segregation of the undifferentiated limb mesenchyme into chondrogenic and elastogenic cell lineages. Further, a role for the elastic fiber scaffold in coordinating the size and the spatial location of the cartilaginous skeletal elements within the limb bud is also suggested from our observations.

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