Patterning mechanisms controlling vertebrate limb development

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2001;17:87-132. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.17.1.87.


Vertebrate limb buds are embryonic structures for which much molecular and cellular data are known regarding the mechanisms that control pattern formation during development. Specialized regions of the developing limb bud, such as the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA), the apical ectodermal ridge (AER), and the non-ridge ectoderm, direct and coordinate the development of the limb bud along the anterior-posterior (AP), dorsal-ventral (DV), and proximal-distal (PD) axes, giving rise to a stereotyped pattern of elements well conserved among tetrapods. In recent years, specific gene functions have been shown to mediate the organizing and patterning activities of the ZPA, the AER, and the non-ridge ectoderm. The analysis of these gene functions has revealed the existence of complex interactions between signaling pathways operated by secreted factors of the HH, TGF-beta/BMP, WNT, and FGF superfamilies, which interact with many other genetic networks to control limb positioning, outgrowth, and patterning. The study of limb development has helped to establish paradigms for the analysis of pattern formation in many other embryonic structures and organs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Ectoderm
  • Embryonic Induction
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Extremities / embryology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Organizers, Embryonic
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Trans-Activators