Co-option of the cardiac transcription factor Nkx2.5 during development of the emu wing

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Farlie, Peter G
Davidson, Nadia M
Baker, Naomi L
Raabus, Mai
Roeszler, Kelly N
Hirst, Claire
Major, Andrew
Mariette, Mylene M
Lambert, David M
Oshlack, Alicia
Smith, Craig A
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The ratites are a distinctive clade of flightless birds, typified by the emu and ostrich that have acquired a range of unique anatomical characteristics since diverging from basal Aves at least 100 million years ago. The emu possesses a vestigial wing with a single digit and greatly reduced forelimb musculature. However, the embryological basis of wing reduction and other anatomical changes associated with loss of flight are unclear. Here we report a previously unknown co-option of the cardiac transcription factor Nkx2.5 to the forelimb in the emu embryo, but not in ostrich, or chicken and zebra finch, which have fully developed wings. Nkx2.5 is expressed in emu limb bud mesenchyme and maturing wing muscle, and mis-expression of Nkx2.5 throughout the limb bud in chick results in wing reductions. We propose that Nkx2.5 functions to inhibit early limb bud expansion and later muscle growth during development of the vestigial emu wing.

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Nature Communications

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© The Author(s) 2017 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit

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