Int. J. Dev. Biol. 43: 665 - 674 (1999)
© UPV/EHU Press

Novel interactions between vertebrate Hox genes.

M H Hooiveld, R Morgan, P in der Rieden, E Houtzager, M Pannese, K Damen, E Boncinelli and A J Durston

Hubrecht Laboratory, Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, Utrecht.

ABSTRACT Understanding why metazoan Hox/HOM-C genes are expressed in spatiotemporal sequences showing colinearity with their genomic sequence is a central challenge in developmental biology. Here, we studied the consequences of ectopically expressing Hox genes to investigate whether Hox-Hox interactions might help to order gene expression during very early vertebrate embryogenesis. Our study revealed conserved autoregulatory loops for the Hox4 and Hox7 paralogue groups, detected following ectopic expression Hoxb-4 or HOXD4, and Hoxa-7, respectively. We also detected specific induction of 5' posterior Hox genes; Hoxb-5 to Hoxb-9, following ectopic expression of Hoxb-4/HOXD4; Hoxb-8 and Hoxb-9 following ectopic expression of Hoxa-7. Additionally, we observed specific repression of 3' anterior genes, following ectopic expression of Hox4 and Hox7 paralogues. We found that induction of Hoxb-4 and Hoxb-5 by Hoxb-4 can be direct, whereas induction of Hoxb-7 is indirect, suggesting the possibility of an activating cascade. Finally, we found that activation of Hoxb-4 itself and of posterior Hox genes by Hoxb-4 can be both non-cell-autonomous, as well as direct. We believe that our findings could be important for understanding how a highly ordered Hox expression sequence is set up in the early vertebrate embryo.