Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are secreted signaling molecules that control important developmental events in many different organisms. Previous studies have shown that BMPs are expressed at the earliest stages of skeletal development, and are required for formation of specific skeletal features, strongly suggesting that they are endogenous signals used to control formation of skeletal tissue. Despite the importance of BMP signaling in normal development, very little is known about the mechanisms that control the synthesis and distribution of BMP signals in vertebrates. Here, we identify a large array of cis-acting control sequences that lay out expression of the mouse Bmp5 gene in specific skeletal structures and soft tissues. Some of these elements show striking specificity for particular anatomical features within the skeleton, rather than for cartilage and bone in general. These data suggest that the vertebrate skeleton is built from the sum of many independent domains of BMP expression, each of which may be controlled by separate regulatory elements driving expression at specific anatomical locations. Surprisingly, some of the regulatory sequences in the Bmp5 gene map over 270 kb from the Bmp5 promoter, making them among the most distant elements yet identified in studies of eukaryotic gene expression.
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