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Development. 2003 Aug;130(16):3807-19.

Acquisition of Hox codes during gastrulation and axial elongation in the mouse embryo.

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  • 1Hubrecht Laboratory, Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, Uppsalalaan 8, 3584 CT Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Early sequential expression of mouse Hox genes is essential for their later function. Analysis of the relationship between early Hox gene expression and the laying down of anterior to posterior structures during and after gastrulation is therefore crucial for understanding the ontogenesis of Hox-mediated axial patterning. Using explants from gastrulation stage embryos, we show that the ability to express 3' and 5' Hox genes develops sequentially in the primitive streak region, from posterior to anterior as the streak extends, about 12 hours earlier than overt Hox expression. The ability to express autonomously the earliest Hox gene, Hoxb1, is present in the posterior streak region at the onset of gastrulation, but not in the anterior region at this stage. However, the posterior region can induce Hoxb1 expression in these anterior region cells. We conclude that tissues are primed to express Hox genes early in gastrulation, concomitant with primitive streak formation and extension, and that Hox gene inducibility is transferred by cell to cell signalling. Axial structures that will later express Hox genes are generated in the node region in the period that Hox expression domains arrive there and continue to spread rostrally. However, lineage analysis showed that definitive Hox codes are not fixed at the node, but must be acquired later and anterior to the node in the neurectoderm, and independently in the mesoderm. We conclude that the rostral progression of Hox gene expression must be modulated by gene regulatory influences from early on in the posterior streak, until the time cells have acquired their stable positions along the axis well anterior to the node.

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