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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 15;108(7):2855-60. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015077108. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Hox gene Ultrabithorax regulates distinct sets of target genes at successive stages of Drosophila haltere morphogenesis.

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  • 1Laboratory for Development and Evolution, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom.


Hox genes encode highly conserved transcription factors that regionalize the animal body axis by controlling complex developmental processes. Although they are known to operate in multiple cell types and at different stages, we are still missing the batteries of genes targeted by any one Hox gene over the course of a single developmental process to achieve a particular cell and organ morphology. The transformation of wings into halteres by the Hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) in Drosophila melanogaster presents an excellent model system to study the Hox control of transcriptional networks during successive stages of appendage morphogenesis and cell differentiation. We have used an inducible misexpression system to switch on Ubx in the wing epithelium at successive stages during metamorphosis--in the larva, prepupa, and pupa. We have then used extensive microarray expression profiling and quantitative RT-PCR to identify the primary transcriptional responses to Ubx. We find that Ubx targets range from regulatory genes like transcription factors and signaling components to terminal differentiation genes affecting a broad repertoire of cell behaviors and metabolic reactions. Ubx up- and down-regulates hundreds of downstream genes at each stage, mostly in a subtle manner. Strikingly, our analysis reveals that Ubx target genes are largely distinct at different stages of appendage morphogenesis, suggesting extensive interactions between Hox genes and hormone-controlled regulatory networks to orchestrate complex genetic programs during metamorphosis.

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