Fin development in a cartilaginous fish and the origin of vertebrate limbs

Mikiko Tanaka, Andrea Munsterberg, W. Gary Anderson, Alan R. Prescott, Neil Hazon, Cheryll Tickle

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Recent fossil finds and experimental analysis of chick and mouse embryos highlighted the lateral fin fold theory, which suggests that two pairs of limbs in tetrapods evolved by subdivision of an elongated single fin1. Here we examine fin development in embryos of the primitive cartilaginous fish, Scyliorhinus canicula (dogfish) using scanning electron microscopy and investigate expression of genes known to be involved in limb positioning, identity and patterning in higher vertebrates. Although we did not detect lateral fin folds in dogfish embryos, Engrailed-1 expression suggests that the body is compartmentalized dorso-ventrally. Furthermore, specification of limb identity occurs through the Tbx4 and Tbx5 genes, as in higher vertebrates. In contrast, unlike higher vertebrates, we did not detect Shh transcripts in dogfish fin-buds, although dHand (a gene involved in establishing Shh) is expressed. In S. canicula, the main fin axis seems to lie parallel to the body axis. 'Freeing' fins from the body axis and establishing a separate 'limb' axis has been proposed to be a crucial step in evolution of tetrapod limbs2, 3. We suggest that Shh plays a critical role in this process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-531
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2002

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