The progress zone (PZ) is a specialized area at the distal margin of the developing limb where mesodermal cells are kept in proliferation and undifferentiated, allowing limb outgrowth. At stages of digit morphogenesis the PZ cells can undergo two possible fates, either aggregate initiating chondrogenic differentiation to configure the digit blastemas, or to die by apoptosis if they are incorporated in the interdigital mesenchyme. While both processes are controlled by bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) the molecular basis for such contrasting differential behavior of the autopodial mesoderm remains unknown. Here we show that a well-defined crescent domain of high BMP activity located at the tip of the forming digits, which we termed the digit crescent (DC), directs incorporation and differentiation of the PZ mesenchymal cells into the digit aggregates. The presence of this domain does not correlate with an exclusive expression domain of BMP receptors and its abrogation by surgical approaches or by local application of BMP antagonists is followed by digit truncation and cell death. We further show that establishment of the DC is directed by Activin/TGFβ signaling, which inhibits Smad 6 and Bambi, two specific BMP antagonists expressed in the interdigits and progress zone mesoderm. The interaction between Activin/TGFβ and BMP pathways at the level of DC promotes the expression of the chondrogenic factor SOX9 accompanied by a local decrease in cell proliferation. Characteristically, the DC domain is asymmetric, it being extended towards the posterior interdigit. The presence of the DC is transitorily dependent of the adjacent posterior interdigit and its maintenance requires also the integrity of the AER. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Montero, J. A., Lorda-Diez, C. I., Gañan, Y., Macias, D., & Hurle, J. M. (2008). Activin/TGFβ and BMP crosstalk determines digit chondrogenesis. Developmental Biology, 321(2), 343–356. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.06.022