Interdigital cell death function and regulation: New insights on an old programmed cell death model


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Interdigital cell death (ICD) is the oldest and best-studied model of programmed cell death (PCD) in vertebrates. The classical view of ICD function is the separation of digits by promotion of tissue regression. However, in addition, ICD can contribute to digit individualization by restricting interdigital tissue growth. Depending on the species, the relative contribution of either regression or growth-restricting functions of ICD to limb morphogenesis may differ. Under normal conditions, most cells appear to die by apoptosis during ICD. Accordingly, components of the apoptotic machinery are found in the interdigits, though their role in the initiation and execution of cell death is yet to be defined. Fgf8 has been identified as a survival factor for the distal mesenchymal cells of the limb such that ICD can initiate following specific downregulation of Fgf8 expression in the ectoderm overlying the interdigital tissue. On the other hand, Bmps may promote cell death directly by acting on the interdigital tissue, or indirectly by downregulating Fgf8 expression in the ectoderm. In addition, retinoic acid can activate ICD directly or through a Bmp-mediated mechanism. Interactions at different levels between these factors establish the spatiotemporal patterning of ICD activation. Defining the regulatory network behind ICD activation will greatly advance our understanding of the mechanisms controlling PCD in general.