A very dynamic and localised spatiotemporal expression pattern of Sulf1 was observed in axial structures and different regions of developing quail somites that included myotomal and sclerotomal regions at specific levels. Sulf1 expression was also observed in not only the scapular and pelvic girdle forming regions of the quail limb that connect the appendicular skeleton to the body trunk but also the cartilage templates of the appendicular skeleton. The highest expression level of Sulf1 was observed in condensing mesenchyme, during the early differentiation stage of chondrogenesis, and highly dynamic expression was observed in the perichondrial and joint-forming regions. Overexpression of Sulf1 in quail micromass cultures enhanced aggregation and differentiation of prechondrocytes into chondrogenic lineage supporting its role in mesenchymal condensation and early differentiation of cartilaginous elements. The exposure of digital explants to high levels of Sulf1 expression in vitro led to increased growth of the original 1st phalange but complete inhibition of joint formation and generation of any further phalanges. Sulf1 thus plays a key role during multiple stages of cartilage development and joint formation. Copyright (c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.