The RNaseIII-containing enzyme Dicer is believed to be required for the processing of most, if not all, microRNAs (miRNAs) and for processing long dsRNA into small interfering RNAs. Because the complete loss of Dicer in both zebrafish and mice results in early embryonic lethality, it has been impossible to determine what role, if any, Dicer has in patterning later tissues in the developing vertebrate embryo. To bypass the early requirement of Dicer in development, we have created a conditional allele of this gene in mice. Using transgenes to drive Cre expression in discrete regions of the limb mesoderm, we find that removal of Dicer results in the loss of processed miRNAs. Phenotypically, developmental delays, in part due to massive cell death as well as disregulation of specific gene expression, lead to the formation of a much smaller limb. Thus, Dicer is required for the formation of normal mouse limbs. Strikingly, however, we did not detect defects in basic patterning or in tissue-specific differentiation of Dicer-deficient limb buds.
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