BACKGROUND: Vertebrate limb development involves a reciprocal feedback loop between limb mesenchyme and the overlying apical ectodermal ridge (AER). Several gene pathways participate in this feedback loop, including Fgf signaling. In the forelimb lateral plate mesenchyme, Tbx5 activates Fgf10 expression, which in turn initiates and maintains the mesenchyme/AER Fgf signaling loop. Recent findings have revealed that Tbx5 transcriptional activity is regulated by dynamic nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and interaction with Pdlim7, a PDZ-LIM protein family member, along actin filaments. This Tbx5 regulation is critical in heart formation, but the coexpression of both proteins in other developing tissues suggests a broader functional role. RESULTS: Knock-down of Pdlim7 function leads to decreased pectoral fin cell proliferation resulting in a severely stunted fin phenotype. While early gene induction and patterning in the presumptive fin field appear normal, the pectoral fin precursor cells display compaction and migration defects between 18 and 24 hours post-fertilization (hpf). During fin growth fgf24 is sequentially expressed in the mesenchyme and then in the apical ectodermal ridge (AER). However, in pdlim7 antisense morpholino-treated embryos this switch of expression is prevented and fgf24 remains ectopically active in the mesenchymal cells. Along with the lack of fgf24 in the AER, other critical factors including fgf8 are reduced, suggesting signaling problems to the underlying mesenchyme. As a consequence of perturbed AER function in the absence of Pdlim7, pathway components in the fin mesenchyme are misregulated or absent, indicating a breakdown of the Fgf signaling feedback loop, which is ultimately responsible for the loss of fin outgrowth. CONCLUSION: This work provides the first evidence for the involvement of Pdlim7 in pectoral fin development. Proper fin outgrowth requires fgf24 downregulation in the fin mesenchyme with subsequent activation in the AER, and Pdlim7 appears to regulate this transition, potentially through Tbx5 regulation. By controlling Tbx5 subcellular localization and transcriptional activity and possibly additional yet unknown means, Pdlim7 is required for proper development of the heart and the fins. These new regulatory mechanisms may have important implications how we interpret Tbx5 function in congenital hand/heart syndromes in humans.