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PLoS Genet. 2009 Mar;5(3):e1000412. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000412. Epub 2009 Mar 13.

Multifactorial regulation of a hox target gene.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany.

Erratum in

  • PLoS Genet. 2009 Mar;5(3). doi: 10.1371/annotation/f89de76b-0e06-4086-994c-20d64c238a46. Stein, Sokrates M A [corrected to Stein, M A Sokrates].


Hox proteins play fundamental roles in controlling morphogenetic diversity along the anterior-posterior body axis of animals by regulating distinct sets of target genes. Within their rather broad expression domains, individual Hox proteins control cell diversification and pattern formation and consequently target gene expression in a highly localized manner, sometimes even only in a single cell. To achieve this high-regulatory specificity, it has been postulated that Hox proteins co-operate with other transcription factors to activate or repress their target genes in a highly context-specific manner in vivo. However, only a few of these factors have been identified. Here, we analyze the regulation of the cell death gene reaper (rpr) by the Hox protein Deformed (Dfd) and suggest that local activation of rpr expression in the anterior part of the maxillary segment is achieved through a combinatorial interaction of Dfd with at least eight functionally diverse transcriptional regulators on a minimal enhancer. It follows that context-dependent combinations of Hox proteins and other transcription factors on small, modular Hox response elements (HREs) could be responsible for the proper spatio-temporal expression of Hox targets. Thus, a large number of transcription factors are likely to be directly involved in Hox target gene regulation in vivo.

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