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Cell. 2002 Aug 23;110(4):457-66.

The Drosophila Hox gene deformed sculpts head morphology via direct regulation of the apoptosis activator reaper.

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Section of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093, USA.


Hox proteins control morphological diversity along the anterior-posterior body axis of animals, but the cellular processes they directly regulate are poorly understood. We show that during early Drosophila development, the Hox protein Deformed (Dfd) maintains the boundary between the maxillary and mandibular head lobes by activating localized apoptosis. Dfd accomplishes this by directly activating the cell death promoting gene reaper (rpr). One other Hox gene, Abdominal-B (Abd-B), also regulates segment boundaries through the regional activation of apoptosis. Thus, one mechanism used by Drosophila Hox genes to modulate segmental morphology is to regulate programmed cell death, which literally sculpts segments into distinct shapes. This and other emerging evidence suggests that Hox proteins may often regulate the maintenance of segment boundaries.

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