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Gastroenterology. 2003 Nov;125(5):1428-40.

Genetic background modifies intestinal pseudo-obstruction and the expression of a reporter gene in Hox11L1-/- mice.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, 4800 Sand Point Way NW, Seattle, WA 98105, USA.



The transcription factor Hox11L1 is expressed by enteric neurons. Two groups mutated murine Hox11L1, and reported lethal intestinal pseudo-obstruction and colonic hyperganglionosis in many, but not all, homozygous null mutants. We investigated the regulation of Hox11L1 and factors that influence the penetrance of pseudo-obstruction in Hox11L1-null mice.


Expression of beta-galactosidase (lacZ), under control of putative Hox11L1 regulatory sequences, was assessed in transgenic mice wild-type, heterozygous, and null for native Hox11L1. Transgene expression and signs of pseudo-obstruction were compared in null mice with different genetic backgrounds.


In enteric neurons and other parts of the nervous system, the transgene was expressed in a pattern consistent with native Hox11L1. Enteric beta-galactosidase activity initiated in the proximal small intestine and spread cranially and caudally in a subset of postmitotic enteric neurons. Hox11L1-lacZ transgene expression persisted in Hox11L1-null animals, suggesting that Hox11L1 is not required cell autonomously for neuronal survival. Genetic background dramatically affected the phenotypes of Hox11L1-null animals, with complete penetrance of severe proximal colonic distention on a predominantly C57BL/6J (B6) background and very low penetrance of dysmotility on a 129SvJ (129) background. Coincidently, Hox11L1-lacZ expression by most enteric neurons, but not CNS neurons, was lost on a 129 background.


Cis-acting, 5' regulatory elements are sufficient to regulate site-specific expression of Hox11L1 in vivo. Expression of the transgene by enteric neurons and penetrance of pseudo-obstruction in Hox11L1-null animals are influenced by one or more modifier genes, counterparts of which may play a similar role in human disease.

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