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The developing limb and the control of the number of digits

Section Editor:
Jacques Michaud, e-mail:


María A. Ros, Departamento de Anatomía y Biología Celular, Universidad de Cantabria, 39011 Santander, Spain.
Tel.: +34 942 201933;
fax: +34 942 201903;


Congenital malformations of the limbs are among the most frequent congenital anomalies found in humans, and they preferentially affect the distal part – the hand or foot. The presence of extradigits, a condition called polydactyly, is the most common limb deformity of the human hand and is the consequence of disturbances in the normal program of limb development. However, despite the extensive use of the developing limb as a classical developmental model, the cellular and genetic mechanisms that control the number and identity of the digits are not completely understood. The aim of this review is to introduce the reader to the current state of knowledge in limb development and to provide the necessary background for an understanding of how deviations from the normal developmental program may lead to polydactyly.