Int. J. Dev. Biol. 40: 797 - 805 (1996)
© UPV/EHU Press

Molecular mechanisms in the control of limb regeneration: the role of homeobox genes.

D M Gardiner and S V Bryant

Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, University of California Irvine 92697, USA.

ABSTRACT Axolotls are unique among vertebrates in their ability to regenerate lost appendages as adults. They provide the opportunity to study the mechanism of regeneration in vertebrates and are an inspiration to pursue the goal of appendage regeneration in humans. In this article, we review data on the role of homeobox-containing genes in the regulation of limb regeneration. As a group, these genes are important in pattern formation in the primary body axis, developing limbs and regenerating limbs. To date, a total of 22 homeobox genes have been identified as being expressed in regenerating limbs. Nearly all of these are also expressed during limb regeneration, further supporting the view that limb development and regeneration involve similar regulatory mechanisms. Our recent results on the expression of HoxA genes demonstrate that once a blastema has formed, subsequent outgrowth and pattern formation are similar to those of limb development. In contrast to developing limbs, reexpression of the HoxA genes in regeneration occurs by a non-colinear mechanism that likely is related to the necessity of mature limb cells to undergo dedifferentiation in order to give rise to the blastema. These studies also indicate that the pattern is respecified by a distal-first mechanism during regeneration in contrast to the apparent proximal-to-distal sequence observed in developing limbs. Expression of the HoxA genes is altered coordinately in response to retinoic acid in a manner consistent with the transformation of a distal blastema to a proximal blastema. Given the recent increase in studies of the molecules involved in regeneration, it is likely that many of the functionally important regeneration genes will be identified and characterized in the near future.