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The Hemimelic extra toes mouse mutant: Historical perspective on unraveling mechanisms of dysmorphogenesis


  • Thomas B. Knudsen,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Center for Computational Toxicology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
    • National Center for Computational Toxicology (B205-01), Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711
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  • Devendra M. Kochhar

    1. Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • The U.S. EPA through its Office of Research and Development reviewed and approved this publication. The views expressed are the opinions of the authors and do not reflect Agency policy. The authors declare they have no competing financial interests.


Hemimelic extra toes (Hx) arose spontaneously as a dominant mutation in B10.D2/nSnJ mice in 1967. It specifically affects the appendicular skeleton, causing variable foreshortening of the tibia (radius) and preaxial polydactylism. Early anatomical studies revealed anterior overgrowth of the autopod, with decreased apoptosis and increased mitosis in the anterior apical ectodermal ridge and underlying mesenchyme; overextension of apoptosis in the central zeugopod accounted for hemimelia. The Hx mutant phenotype was coarsely mapped to mouse chromosome (Chr) 5 and closely linked to engrailed-2 (En2) and Sonic hedgehog (Shh). This region is syntenic to human Chr 7q36 that harbors several dominant mutations affecting the hand. High-resolution genome mapping identified the Hx mutation as a G → A base pair transition within Intron 5 of the murine Lmbr1 locus. The critical effect is on a multifunctional conserved regulatory element that acts as a limb-specific, long-distance cis-acting enhancer of Shh expression. As such, the Hx mutant phenotype results from ectopic Shh signals at the anterior margin of the limb bud that directly or indirectly alter FGF4 signaling from the apical ectodermal ridge. Given significant advances in understanding of embryonic development in general and limb development in particular, this review article reveals how research that once attracted interest of teratologists has advanced across the decades to pinpoint a critical molecular lesion and reveal a potential mechanism of a specific malformation that is found commonly in experimental teratology. Birth Defects Research (Part C) 90:155–162, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.