The developing vertebrate limb has long proved as an excellent system for studying the mechanisms involved in pattern formation and morphogenesis and more recently in transcriptional regulation and morphological evolution. To elucidate the stage-specific expression profiles of the components of the developing limb, we have generated the temporal transcriptome of the limb progenitors and of the overlying ectoderm separately. Our study has uncovered a collinear activation of Hoxc genes in the limb ectoderm that we have validated by in situ hybridization. However, while members of the HoxA and HoxD clusters show complex and dynamic patterns of expression during limb development that correlate with the morphology of the different limb segments, no specific function for the HoxC or HoxB clusters has been identified ( 1 - 3 ). To investigate the function of Hoxc genes in the limb ectoderm, we have reexamined the HoxC cluster null mice. Remarkably, and despite exhibiting normal terminal phalanges, these mice didn't form claws (anonychia). Morphological and immunohistochemical analysis identified a failure in the differentiation of the main components of the nail/claw organ. To unravel the transcriptional regulation of Hoxc genes in the limb ectoderm, we used the ATACseq technique. Using this approach, we identified two putative regulatory regions which activity was tested in mouse transgenic enhancer assays. It is currently considered that Hox genes have played a key role in the evolution of morphological traits, probably associated with changes in their regulatory landscapes ( 4 ). Given that the form and size of the distal limb integumentary organ (nail, claw or hoof) correlates with that of the distal phalanx and that the development of hooves was a major innovation in the evolution of a cursorial lifestyle, we are also exploring the possible implication of Hoxc genes in the nail/claw/hoof transition. This abstract is from the Experimental Biology 2018 Meeting. There is no full text article associated with this abstract published in The FASEB Journal.
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