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Dev Biol. 1999 Apr 1;208(1):134-46.

Hoxa5 gene regulation: A gradient of binding activity to a brachial spinal cord element.

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Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Program, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA.


The Hox genes cooperate in providing positional information needed for spatial and temporal patterning of the vertebrate body axis. However, the biological mechanisms behind spatial Hox expression are largely unknown. In transgenic mice, gene fusions between Hoxa5 (previously called Hox-1.3) 5' flanking regions and the lacZ reporter gene show tissue- and time-specific expression in the brachial spinal cord in day 11-13 embryos. A 604-bp regulatory region with enhancer properties directs this spatially specific expression. Fine-detail mapping of the enhancer has identified several elements involved in region-specific expression, including an element required for expression in the brachial spinal cord. Factors in embryonic day 12.5 nuclear extracts bind this element in electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA) and protect three regions from DNase digestion. All three sites contain an AAATAA sequence and mutations at these sites reduce or abolish binding. Furthermore, this element binds specific individual embryonic proteins on a protein blot. The binding activity appears as a gradient along the anterior-posterior axis with two- to threefold higher levels observed in extracts from anterior regions than from posterior regions. In parallel with the EMSA, the proteins on the protein blot also show reduced binding to probes with mutations at the AAATAA sites. Most importantly, transgenic mice carrying Hoxa5/lacZ fusions with the three AAATAA sites mutated either do not express the transgene or have altered transgene expression. The brachial spinal cord element and its binding proteins are likely to be involved in spatial expression of Hoxa5 during development.

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