How do vertebrate epithelial appendages form from the flat epithelia? Following the formation of feather placodes, the previously radially symmetrical primordia become anterior-posterior (A-P) asymmetrical and develop a proximo-distal (P-D) axis. Analysis of the molecular heterogeneity revealed a surprising parallel of molecular profiles in the A-P feather buds and the ventral-dorsal (V-D) Drosophila appendage imaginal discs. The functional significance was tested with an in vitro feather reconstitution model. Wnt-7a expression initiated all over the feather tract epithelium, intensifying as it became restricted first to the primordia domain, then to an accentuated ring pattern within the primordia border, and finally to the posterior bud. In contrast, sonic hedgehog expression was induced later as a dot within the primordia. RCAS was used to overexpress Wnt-7a in reconstituted feather explants derived from stage 29 dorsal skin to further test its function in feather formation. Control skin formed normal elongated, slender buds with A-P orientation, but Wnt-7a overexpression led to plateau-like skin appendages lacking an A-P axis. Feathers in the Wnt-7a overexpressing skin also had inhibited elongation of the P-D axes. This was not due to a lack of cell proliferation, which actually was increased although randomly distributed. While morphogenesis was perturbed, differentiation proceeded as indicated by the formation of barb ridges. Wnt-7a buds have reduced expression of anterior (Tenascin) bud markers. Middle (Notch-1) and posterior bud markers including Delta-1 and Serrate-1 were diffusely expressed. The results showed that ectopic Wnt-7a expression enhanced properties characteristic of the middle and posterior feather buds and suggest that P-D elongation of vertebrate skin appendages requires balanced interactions between the anterior and posterior buds.