The mitogenic effects of neuropeptides and their localization to developing tissues suggest an important role for these peptides during gestation. We examined the expression and action of the neuropeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in the developing mouse limb bud, an excellent model system for studying musculoskeletal development. CGRP immunoreactivity (CGRP-ir) was first detected in the developing limb at day 16.5 of gestation (E 16.5) and was limited to nerve fibers surrounding blood vessels, within the developing muscle or in close proximity to the developing cartilaginous skeleton. Although CGRP-ir was not observed until E 16.5, limb buds were responsive to CGRP as early as E 11.5. Within 5 min of exposure to CGRP (10-8 to 10-7 M) a 2-3-fold increase in cyclic AMP (cAMP) levels was observed. This CGRP-induced increase in cAMP was abolished by the addition of human CGRP8-37, a CGRP receptor antagonist. This result suggests that the effect on cAMP was mediated by the interaction of CGRP with CGRP receptors. Our findings indicate that mouse limbs are responsive to CGRP when they are composed of primarily undifferentiated mesenchyme and that CGRP-ir appears at a later stage of development in association with cartilage and muscle differentiation.
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