A complex role for Distal-less in crustacean appendage development

T. A. Williams, C. Nulsen, L. M. Nagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The developing leg of Drosophila is initially patterned by subdivision of the leg into proximal and distal domains by the activity of the homeodomain proteins Extradenticle (Exd) and Distal-less (Dll). These early domains of gene expression are postulated to reflect a scenario of limb evolution in which an undifferentiated appendage outgrowth was subdivided into two functional parts, the coxapodite and telopodite. The legs of most arthropods have a more complex morphology than the simple rod-shaped leg of Drosophila. We document the expression of Dll and Exd in two crustacean species with complex branched limbs. We show that in these highly modified limbs there is a Dll domain exclusive of Exd but there is also extensive overlap in Exd and Dll expression. While arthropod limbs all appear to have distinct proximal and distal domains, those domains do not define homologous structures throughout arthropods. In addition, we find a striking correlation throughout the proximal/distal extent of the leg between setal-forming cells and Dll expression. We postulate that this may reflect a pleisiomorphic function of Dll in development of the peripheral nervous system. In addition, our results confirm previous observations that branch formation in multiramous arthropod limbs is not regulated by a simple iteration of the proximal/distal patterning module employed in Drosophila limb development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-312
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2002


  • Crustaceans
  • Distal-less
  • Extradenticle
  • Limb development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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