Departamento de Anatomía y Biologia Celular, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Cantabria, Santander, Spain.
The sculpturing of shape in the developing limb together with the regression of the tail in anuran tadpoles constitute, perhaps, the most paradigmatic processes of programmed cell death. The study of these model systems has been of fundamental importance to support the idea that cell death is a physiological behavior of cells in multicellular organisms. Furthermore, different experimental approaches, including comparative analyses of the pattern of cell death in different avian species (i.e. chick interdigits versus duck interdigital webs) and in chick mutants with different limb phenotypes, provided the first evidence for the occurrence of a genetic program underlying the control of cell death. Two well known research groups in the field of limb development, the USA group headed first by John Saunders and next by John Fallon and the group of Donald Ede and Richard Hinchliffe in the U.K. provided a remarkable contribution to this topic. In spite of the historical importance of the developing limb in establishing the concept of programmed cell death, this model system of tissue regression has been largely neglected in recent studies devoted to the analysis of the molecular control of self-induced cell death (apoptosis). However, a considerable amount of information concerning this topic has been obtained in the last few years. Here we will review current information on the control of limb programmed cell death in an attempt to stimulate further molecular studies of this process of tissue regression.