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Sonic hedgehog (Shh) plays an integral role in both the anterior-posterior (A-P) patterning and expansion of developing vertebrate limbs through a feedback loop involving Fgfs, Bmps, and Gremlin. In bat limbs A-P patterning and the size of the digital field are unique. The posterior digits of the forelimb are elongated and joined by tissue, whereas the thumb is short. The hindlimb digits often are uniform in length. Here, we reveal novel expression patterns for Shh and its target, Patched 1 (Ptc1), during limb development in two bat species. Early Shh expression in the zone of polarizing activity is wider in the bat forelimb than in the mouse forelimb, correlating with the reported expansion of Fgf8 expression in the apical ectodermal ridge and the early loss of symmetry in the bat forelimb. Later in limb development, Shh and Ptc1 expression is reinitiated in the interdigital tissue. Shh is graded along the A-P axis in forelimb and is expressed uniformly at a lower level across the hindlimb interdigital tissue. We also show that the reported Fgf8 expression in the interdigital tissue precedes the expression of Shh. We propose that the reinitiation of Shh and Fgf8 expression in bat limbs reactivates the Shh-Fgf feedback loop in the interdigital tissue of stage 16 bat embryos. The cell survival and proliferation signals provided by the Shh-Fgf signaling loop probably contribute to the lengthening of the posterior forelimb digits, the survival of the forelimb interdigital webbing, and the extension of the hindlimb digits to a uniform length.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





16982 - 16987


Animals, Body Patterning, Bone Morphogenetic Proteins, Chiroptera, Fibroblast Growth Factor 8, Forelimb, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Hedgehog Proteins, Hindlimb, Mice, Molecular Sequence Data