Congenital genetic disorders affecting limb morphology in humans and other mammals are particularly well described, due to both their rather high frequencies of occurrence and the ease of their detection when expressed as severe forms. In most cases, their molecular and cellular etiology remained unknown long after their initial description, often for several decades, and sometimes close to a century. Over the past 20 yr, however, experimental and conceptual advances in our understanding of gene regulation, in particular over large genomic distances, have allowed these cold cases to be reopened and, eventually, for some of them to be solved. These investigations led not only to the isolation of the culprit genes and mechanisms, but also to the understanding of the often complex regulatory processes that are disturbed in such mutant genetic configurations. Here, we present several cases in which dormant regulatory mutations have been retrieved from the archives, starting from a historical perspective up to their molecular explanations. While some cases remain open, waiting for new tools and/or concepts to bring their investigations to an end, the solutions to others have contributed to our understanding of particular features often found in the regulation of developmental genes and hence can be used as benchmarks to address the impact of noncoding variants in the future.
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