2007 Volume 30 Issue 10 Pages 1819-1825
Fibroblast growth factors (Fgfs) were originally isolated as growth factors for fibroblasts. However, Fgfs are now recognized as polypeptide growth factors of ca. 150—250 amino acid residues with diverse biological activities and expression profiles. The Fgf signaling system has been identified in multicelluar but not in unicellular organisms. In contrast to the only two Fgf genes and one Fgf receptor (Fgfr) gene in Caenorhabditis elegans, both the human and mouse Fgf and Fgfr gene families comprise twenty-two and four members, respectively. Their evolutional processes indicate that the Fgf and Fgfr gene families greatly co-expanded during the evolution of early vertebrates. The expansion of the Fgf and Fgfr gene families has enabled this signaling system to acquire diversity of function and a nearly ubiquitous involvement in many developmental and physiological processes. The zebrafish fgf gene family comprises twenty-seven members with several paralogs generated by an additional genome duplication. The mouse and zebrafish are useful models for studying gene functions. Fgf knockout mice have been generated. Several Fgf knockout mice die in the embryonic or early postnatal stages, indicating crucial roles for these genes in various developmental processes. However, other Fgf knockout mice survive with subtle phenotypic alterations. Their functions might be redundant. Studies using zebrafish embryos with mutated or knockdown fgfs also indicate that fgfs play crucial roles in development in that species. Although most Fgfs act in development in a paracrine and/or autocrine manner, some have potential roles in metabolism in an endocrine manner. In humans, Fgf signaling disorders result in hereditary diseases and cancers.