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Embryonic appendicular structures, such as the limb buds and the developing external genitalia, are suitable models with which toanalyze the reciprocal interactions of growth factors in the regulation of outgrowth. Although several studies have evaluated theindividual functions of different growth factors in appendicular growth, the coordinated function and integration of input frommultiple signaling cascades is poorly understood. We demonstrate that a novel signaling cascade governs formation of theembryonic external genitalia [genital tubercle (GT)]. We show that the dosage of Shh signal is tightly associated with subsequentlevels of Wnt/β-catenin activity and the extent of external genitalia outgrowth. In Shh-null mouse embryos, both expression of Wntligands and Wnt/β-catenin signaling activity are downregulated. β-catenin gain-of-function mutation rescues defective GToutgrowth and Fgf8 expression in Shh-null embryos. These data indicate that Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the distal urethralepithelium acts downstream of Shh signaling during GT outgrowth. The current data also suggest that Wnt/β-catenin regulatesFgf8 expression via Lef/Tcf binding sites in a 3' conserved enhancer. Fgf8 induces phosphorylation of Erk1/2 and cell proliferation inthe GT mesenchyme in vitro, yet Fgf4/8 compound-mutant phenotypes indicate dispensable functions of Fgf4/8 and the possibilityof redundancy among multiple Fgfs in GT development. Our results provide new insights into the integration of growth factorsignaling in the appendicular developmental programs that regulate external genitalia development.


  • Development

    Development 136(23), 3969-3978, 2009-12-01

    Company of Biologists


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