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Dev Biol. 2006 Dec 1;300(1):63-73. Epub 2006 Aug 4.

Genetic organization and embryonic expression of the ParaHox genes in the sea urchin S. purpuratus: insights into the relationship between clustering and colinearity.

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Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Villa Comunale, 80121 Napoli, Italy.


The ANTP family of homeodomain transcription factors consists of three major groups, the NKL, the extended Hox, and the Hox/ParaHox family. Hox genes and ParaHox genes are often linked in the genome forming two clusters of genes, the Hox cluster and the ParaHox cluster, and are expressed along the major body axis in a nested fashion, following the relative positions of the genes within these clusters, a property called colinearity. While the presences of a Hox cluster and a ParaHox cluster appear to be primitive for bilaterians, few taxa have actually been examined for spatial and temporal colinearity, and, aside from chordates, even fewer still manifest it. Here we show that the ParaHox genes of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus show both spatial and temporal colinearity, but with peculiarities. Specifically, two of the three ParaHox genes-discovered through the S. purpuratus genome project-Sp-lox and Sp-Cdx, are expressed in the developing gut with nested domains in a spatially colinear manner. However, transcripts of Sp-Gsx, although anterior of Sp-lox, are detected in the ectoderm and not in the gut. Strikingly, the expression of the three ParaHox genes would follow temporal colinearity if they were clustered in the same order as in chordates, but each ParaHox gene is actually found on a different genomic scaffold (>300 kb each), which suggests that they are not linked into a single coherent cluster. Therefore, ParaHox genes are dispersed in the genome and are used during embryogenesis in a temporally and spatially coherent manner, whereas the Hox genes, now fully sequenced and annotated, are still linked and are employed as a complex only during the emergence of the adult body plan in the larva.

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