• autopod;
  • limb;
  • pattern formation

The autopod, including the mesopodium and the acropodium, is the most distal part of the tetrapod limb, and developmental mechanisms of autopod formation serve as a model system of pattern formation during development. Cartilage rudiments of the autopod develop after proximal elements have differentiated. The autopod region is marked by a change in the expression of two homeobox genes: future autopod cells are first Hoxa11/Hoxa13-double-positive and then Hoxa13-single-positive. The change in expression of these Hox genes is controlled by upstream mechanisms, including the retinoic acid pathway, and the expression of Hoxa13 is connected to downstream mechanisms, including the autopod-specific cell surface property mediated by molecules, including cadherins and ephrins/Ephs, for cell-to-cell communication and recognition. Comparative analyses of the expression of Hox genes in fish fins and tetrapod limb buds support the notion on the origin of the autopod in vertebrates. This review will focus on the cellular and molecular regulation of the formation of the autopod during development and evolutionary developmental aspects of the origin of the autopod.