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Development. 2002 Sep;129(18):4301-13.

Negative effect of Hox gene expression on the development of the neural crest-derived facial skeleton.

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Institut d'Embryologie cellulaire et mol├ęculaire du CNRS et du Coll├Ęge de France, 49bis, av. de la Belle Gabrielle - 94736 Nogent-sur-Marne cedex, France.


Diencephalic, mesencephalic and metencephalic neural crest cells are skeletogenic and derive from neural folds that do not express Hox genes. In order to examine the influence of Hox gene expression on skull morphogenesis, expression of Hoxa2, Hoxa3 and Hoxb4 in conjunction with that of the green fluorescent protein has been selectively targeted to the Hox-negative neural folds of the avian embryo prior to the onset of crest cell emigration. Hoxa2 expression precludes the development of the entire facial skeleton. Transgenic Hoxa2 embryos such as those from which the Hox-negative domain of the cephalic neural crest has been removed have no upper or lower jaws and no frontonasal structures. Embryos subjected to the forced expression of Hoxa3 and Hoxb4 show severe defects in the facial skeleton but not a complete absence of facial cartilage. Hoxa3 prevents the formation of the skeleton derived from the first branchial arch, but allows the development (albeit reduced) of the nasal septum. Hoxb4, by contrast, hampers the formation of the nasal bud-derived skeleton, while allowing that of a proximal (but not distal) segment of the lower jaw. The combined effect of Hoxa3 and Hoxb4 prevents the formation of facial skeletal structures, comparable with Hoxa2. None of these genes impairs the formation of neural derivatives of the crest. These results suggest that over the course of evolution, the absence of Hox gene expression in the anterior part of the chordate embryo was crucial in the vertebrate phylum for the development of a face, jaws and brain case, and, hence, also for that of the forebrain.

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