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Bare bones pattern formation: A core regulatory network in varying geometries reproduces major features of vertebrate limb development and evolution
Author: Zhu, Jianfeng and Zhang, Yong-Tao and Alber, Mark S. and Newman, Stuart A.
Journal: PLoS ONE
Volume: 5
Year: 2010
Pages: e10892

<sec> <title>Background</title> <p>Major unresolved questions regarding vertebrate limb development concern how the numbers of skeletal elements along the proximodistal (P-D) and anteroposterior (A-P) axes are determined and how the shape of a growing limb affects skeletal element formation. There is currently no generally accepted model for these patterning processes, but recent work on cartilage development (chondrogenesis) indicates that precartilage tissue self-organizes into nodular patterns by cell-molecular circuitry with local auto-activating and lateral inhibitory (LALI) properties. This process is played out in the developing limb in the context of a gradient of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) emanating from the apical ectodermal ridge (AER).</p> </sec><sec> <title>Results</title> <p>We have simulated the behavior of the core chondrogenic mechanism of the developing limb in the presence of an FGF gradient using a novel computational environment that permits simulation of LALI systems in domains of varying shape and size. The model predicts the normal proximodistal pattern of skeletogenesis as well as distal truncations resulting from AER removal. Modifications of the model's parameters corresponding to plausible effects of Hox proteins and formins, and of the reshaping of the model limb, bud yielded simulated phenotypes resembling mutational and experimental variants of the limb. Hypothetical developmental scenarios reproduce skeletal morphologies with features of fossil limbs.</p> </sec><sec> <title>Conclusions</title> <p>The limb chondrogenic regulatory system operating in the presence of a gradient has an inherent, robust propensity to form limb-like skeletal structures. The bare bones framework can accommodate ancillary gene regulatory networks controlling limb bud shaping and establishment of Hox expression domains. This mechanism accounts for major features of the normal limb pattern and, under variant geometries and different parameter values, those of experimentally manipulated, genetically aberrant and evolutionary early forms, with no requirement for an independent system of positional information.</p> </sec>