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Development. 2007 Apr;134(7):1243-51. Epub 2007 Feb 28.

The Hes gene family: repressors and oscillators that orchestrate embryogenesis.

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  • 1Institute for Virus Research, Kyoto University and Japan Science and Technology Agency, CREST, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan.


Embryogenesis involves orchestrated processes of cell proliferation and differentiation. The mammalian Hes basic helix-loop-helix repressor genes play central roles in these processes by maintaining progenitor cells in an undifferentiated state and by regulating binary cell fate decisions. Hes genes also display an oscillatory expression pattern and control the timing of biological events, such as somite segmentation. Many aspects of Hes expression are regulated by Notch signaling, which mediates cell-cell communication. This primer describes these pleiotropic roles of Hes genes in some developmental processes and aims to clarify the basic mechanism of how gene networks operate in vertebrate embryogenesis.

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