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Dev Biol. 2010 Jul 1;343(1-2):154-66. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2010.04.004. Epub 2010 Apr 14.

Comparing anterior and posterior Hox complex formation reveals guidelines for predicting cis-regulatory elements.

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Division of Developmental Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, 3333 Burnet Ave, MLC 7007, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA.


Hox transcription factors specify numerous cell fates along the anterior-posterior axis by regulating the expression of downstream target genes. While expression analysis has uncovered large numbers of de-regulated genes in cells with altered Hox activity, determining which are direct versus indirect targets has remained a significant challenge. Here, we characterize the DNA binding activity of Hox transcription factor complexes on eight experimentally verified cis-regulatory elements. Hox factors regulate the activity of each element by forming protein complexes with two cofactor proteins, Extradenticle (Exd) and Homothorax (Hth). Using comparative DNA binding assays, we found that a number of flexible arrangements of Hox, Exd, and Hth binding sites mediate cooperative transcription factor complexes. Moreover, analysis of a Distal-less regulatory element (DMXR) that is repressed by abdominal Hox factors revealed that suboptimal binding sites can be combined to form high affinity transcription complexes. Lastly, we determined that the anterior Hox factors are more dependent upon Exd and Hth for complex formation than posterior Hox factors. Based upon these findings, we suggest a general set of guidelines to serve as a basis for designing bioinformatics algorithms aimed at identifying Hox regulatory elements using the wealth of recently sequenced genomes.

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