The identities of the digits of the avian forelimb are disputed. Whereas paleontological findings support the position that the digits correspond to digits one, two, and three, embryological evidence points to digit two, three, and four identities. By using transplantation and cell-labeling experiments, we found that the posteriormost digit in the wing does not correspond to digit four in the hindlimb; its progenitor segregates early from the zone of polarizing activity, placing it in the domain of digit three specification. We suggest that an avian-specific shift uncouples the digit anlagen from the molecular mechanisms that pattern them, resulting in the imposition of digit one, two, and three identities on the second, third, and fourth anlagens.
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