Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Insight into how separate digit development is controlled

17 May 2020

Staying Connected

“10 fingers and 10 toes” is the classic refrain of a satisfied doctor after a healthy baby is born, but things aren’t always quite so clear cut. Syndactyly is a condition where two or more digits are fused together. It was previously believed that this resulted from insufficient removal of the connective tissue that exists between digits as they grow, but a new study has shown other factors are involved as well. By tracking the development of healthy mouse embryo feet (right) and those lacking the key gene GRHL3 (left), they observed that an outer skin forming around the growing digits plays an important separation role. This key factor helps the outer layer push between and un-stick each digit. GRHL3 also plays a role in Van der Woude syndrome, which is characterised by a cleft palate, and understanding how and why development goes awry might guide research into new treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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