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Dev Biol. 2004 Aug 15;272(2):403-18.

pha-2 encodes the C. elegans ortholog of the homeodomain protein HEX and is required for the formation of the pharyngeal isthmus.

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Lundberg Laboratory, Chalmers University, Göteborg S-405 30, Sweden.


The pha-2 mutant was isolated in 1993 by Leon Avery in a screen for worms with visible defects in pharyngeal feeding behavior. In pha-2 mutant worms, the pharyngeal isthmus is abnormally thick and short and, in contrast to wild-type worms, harbors several cell nuclei. We show here that pha-2 encodes a homeodomain protein and is homologous to the vertebrate homeobox gene, Hex (also known as Prh). Consistent with a function in pharyngeal development, the pha-2 gene is expressed in the pharyngeal primordium of Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, particularly in pm5 cells that form the bulk of the isthmus. We show that in the pha-2 mutant there is a failure of the pm5 cells to elongate anteriorly while keeping their nuclei within the nascent posterior bulb to form the isthmus during the 3-fold embryonic stage. We also present evidence that pha-2 regulates itself positively in pm5 cells, that it is a downstream target of the forkhead gene pha-4, and that it may also act in the isthmus as an inhibitor of the ceh-22 gene, an Nkx2.5 homolog. Finally, we have begun characterizing the regulation of the pha-2 gene and find that intronic sequences are essential for the complete pha-2 expression profile. The present report is the first to examine the expression and function of an invertebrate Hex homolog, that is, the C. elegans pha-2 gene.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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