Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Conserved cis-regulatory regions in a large genomic landscape control SHH and BMP-regulated Gremlin1 expression in mouse limb buds

Aimée Zuniga1*, Frédéric Laurent1, Javier Lopez-Rios1, Christian Klasen23, Nicolas Matt14 and Rolf Zeller1*

Author Affiliations

1 Developmental Genetics, Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel, Mattenstrasse 28, CH-4058, Basel, Switzerland

2 Transgenic Service, EMBL, Meyerhofstrasse 1, 69012, Heidelberg, Germany

3 Present address: Max-Delbrueck-Centrum Berlin, Robert Roessle-Strasse 10, 13215, Berlin, Germany

4 Present address: Université de Strasbourg, Institut de Biologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire, UPR 9022 CNRS, 15 rue René Descartes, 67084, Strasbourg, France

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BMC Developmental Biology 2012, 12:23  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-12-23

Published: 13 August 2012



Mouse limb bud is a prime model to study the regulatory interactions that control vertebrate organogenesis. Major aspects of limb bud development are controlled by feedback loops that define a self-regulatory signalling system. The SHH/GREM1/AER-FGF feedback loop forms the core of this signalling system that operates between the posterior mesenchymal organiser and the ectodermal signalling centre. The BMP antagonist Gremlin1 (GREM1) is a critical node in this system, whose dynamic expression is controlled by BMP, SHH, and FGF signalling and key to normal progression of limb bud development. Previous analysis identified a distant cis-regulatory landscape within the neighbouring Formin1 (Fmn1) locus that is required for Grem1 expression, reminiscent of the genomic landscapes controlling HoxD and Shh expression in limb buds.


Three highly conserved regions (HMCO1-3) were identified within the previously defined critical genomic region and tested for their ability to regulate Grem1 expression in mouse limb buds. Using a combination of BAC and conventional transgenic approaches, a 9 kb region located ~70 kb downstream of the Grem1 transcription unit was identified. This region, termed Grem1 Regulatory Sequence 1 (GRS1), is able to recapitulate major aspects of Grem1 expression, as it drives expression of a LacZ reporter into the posterior and, to a lesser extent, in the distal-anterior mesenchyme. Crossing the GRS1 transgene into embryos with alterations in the SHH and BMP pathways established that GRS1 depends on SHH and is modulated by BMP signalling, i.e. integrates inputs from these pathways. Chromatin immunoprecipitation revealed interaction of endogenous GLI3 proteins with the core cis-regulatory elements in the GRS1 region. As GLI3 is a mediator of SHH signal transduction, these results indicated that SHH directly controls Grem1 expression through the GRS1 region. Finally, all cis-regulatory regions within the Grem1 genomic landscape locate to the DNAse I hypersensitive sites identified in this genomic region by the ENCODE consortium.


This study establishes that distant cis-regulatory regions scattered through a larger genomic landscape control the highly dynamic expression of Grem1, which is key to normal progression of mouse limb bud development.