Flight in birds evolved through patterning of the wings from forelimbs and transition from alternating gait to synchronous flapping. In mammals, the spinal midline guidance molecule ephrin-B3 instructs the wiring that enables limb alternation, and its deletion leads to synchronous hopping gait. Here, we show that the ephrin-B3 protein in birds lacks several motifs present in other vertebrates, diminishing its affinity for the EphA4 receptor. The avian ephrin-B3 gene lacks an enhancer that drives midline expression and is missing in galliforms. The morphology and wiring at brachial levels of the chicken embryonic spinal cord resemble those of ephrin-B3 null mice. Dorsal midline decussation, evident in the mutant mouse, is apparent at the chick brachial level and is prevented by expression of exogenous ephrin-B3 at the roof plate. Our findings support a role for loss of ephrin-B3 function in shaping the avian brachial spinal cord circuitry and facilitating synchronous wing flapping.
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