beta-catenin in epithelial morphogenesis: conversion of part of avian foot scales into feather buds with a mutated beta-catenin

Dev Biol. 2000 Mar 1;219(1):98-114. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1999.9580.


We explored the role of beta-catenin in chicken skin morphogenesis. Initially beta-catenin mRNA was expressed at homogeneous levels in the epithelia over a skin appendage tract field which became transformed into a periodic pattern corresponding to individual primordia. The importance of periodic patterning was shown in scaleless mutants, in which beta-catenin was initially expressed normally, but failed to make a punctuated pattern. To test beta-catenin function, a truncated armadillo fragment was expressed in developing chicken skin from the RCAS retrovirus. This produced a variety of phenotypic changes during epithelial appendage morphogenesis. In apteric and scale-producing regions, new feather buds with normal-appearing follicle sheaths, dermal papillae, and barb ridges were induced. In feather tracts, short, wide, and curled feather buds with abnormal morphology and random orientation formed. Epidermal invaginations and placode-like structures formed in the scale epidermis. PCNA staining and the distribution of molecular markers (SHH, NCAM, Tenascin-C) were characteristic of feather buds. These results suggest that the beta-catenin pathway is involved in modulating epithelial morphogenesis and that increased beta-catenin pathway activity can increase the activity of skin appendage phenotypes. Analogies between regulated and deregulated new growths are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein
  • Animals
  • Avian Sarcoma Viruses / genetics
  • Chick Embryo
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Feathers / embryology
  • Feathers / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Lymphoid Enhancer-Binding Factor 1
  • Mutation*
  • Peptide Fragments / genetics
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Skin / embryology*
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Trans-Activators*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • beta Catenin


  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Lymphoid Enhancer-Binding Factor 1
  • Peptide Fragments
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • beta Catenin