A steady ionic current is driven out of both developing and regenerating amphibian limbs. In the developing limbs of anurans and urodeles, focal outwardly directed current (0.5-2 microA/cm(2)) predicts the location of mesenchyme accumulations producing the early bud. Here, we report measurements of a similar outwardly directed ionic current associated with the development of the limb bud in the mouse and chick embryo by using a noninvasive, self-referencing electrode for the measurement of extracellular current. In both the mouse and chick embryo, flank currents were usually inwardly directed - the direction of Na(+) uptake by ectoderm. Outward currents associated with the mouse limb bud ranged from 0.04-10.8 microA/cm(2). Mouse limb bud and flank currents were similar to those measured in amphibian larvae, because they were reversibly collapsed and/or reversed by application of 30 microM amiloride, a Na(+) channel blocker. Unlike the amphibian embryos, flank ectoderm adjacent to the mouse limb bud in the anterior/posterior axis was usually associated with outwardly directed ionic current. This raises the possibility of a different, or changing, gradient of extracellular voltage experienced by mesenchyme cells in this plane of development than that observed in other regions of the limb bud. In the chick flank caudal to the somites, a striking reversal of the inwardly directed flank currents to very large ( approximately 100 microA/cm(2)) outwardly directed currents occurred three developmental stages before limb bud formation. We tested the relevance of this outwardly directed ionic current to limb formation in the chick embryo by reversing it by using an artificially applied "countercurrent" pulled through a microelectrode inserted just beneath the caudal ectoderm of the embryo. This application was performed for approximately 6 hr 2.5-3 developmental stages before hindlimb bud formation. This method resulted in abnormal limb formation by the tenth day of gestation in some embryos, whereas all control embryos developed normally. These data suggest an early physiological control of limb development.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.