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Abstract

We report herein that a pentadactyl developmental pattern is evident in early wing morphogenesis of Gallus (chicken) and Struthio (ostrich). Five avascular zones (spatially predestined locations of contiguous metacarpal and phalangeal aggregation) and four interdigital vascular spaces are established by the regression patterns of autopodial vasculature. Transient vestiges of the first and fifth metacarpals are confirmed histologically and histochemically. They lie within the preaxial-most and postaxial-most avascular zones, respectively. These observations reveal conservative patterning of the avian hand and corroborate a II-III-IV metacarpal interpretation, argue for II-III-IV identity of ossified digits in birds, and favour a simple reduction rather than a homeotic shift in terms of the phenotype expressed by Hox genes in the phylogeny of the avian manus. We suggest that gradual, bilateral reduction of phalanges and metacarpals, via apoptosis mediated by BMP, occurred during the evolution of birds (Pyramid Reduction Hypothesis). This is congruent with the establishment of a central wing axis that became co-opted for coordinated movements. On the basis of evidence presented here, the direct avian ancestor is predicted to have been five-fingered with dominant digits (+ metacarpals) as follow: II, III, IV. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 294:152–159, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.