Developmental cell

A switch from low to high Shh activity regulates establishment of limb progenitors and signaling centers.

PMID 24726283


The patterning and growth of the embryonic vertebrate limb is dependent on Sonic hedgehog (Shh), a morphogen that regulates the activity of Gli transcription factors. However, Shh expression is not observed during the first 12 hr of limb development. During this phase, the limb bud is prepatterned into anterior and posterior regions through the antagonistic actions of transcription factors Gli3 and Hand2. We demonstrate that precocious activation of Shh signaling during this early phase interferes with the Gli3-dependent specification of anterior progenitors, disturbing establishment of signaling centers and normal outgrowth of the limb. Our findings illustrate that limb development requires a sweet spot in the level and timing of pathway activation that allows for the Shh-dependent expansion of posterior progenitors without interfering with early prepatterning functions of Gli3/Gli3R or specification of anterior progenitors.