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Nature. 1995 Sep 21;377(6546):229-32.

Specification of anteroposterior cell fates in Caenorhabditis elegans by Drosophila Hox proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0554, USA.


Antennapedia class homeobox (Hox) genes specify cell fates in successive anteroposterior body domains in vertebrates, insects and nematodes. The DNA-binding homeodomain sequences are very similar between vertebrate and Drosophila Hox proteins, and this similarity allows vertebrate Hox proteins to function in Drosophila. In contrast, the Caenorhabditis elegans homeodomains are substantially divergent. Further, C. elegans differs from both insects and vertebrates in having a non-segmented body as well as a distinctive mode of development that involves asymmetric early cleavages and invariant cell lineages. Here we report that, despite these differences, Drosophila Hox proteins expressed in C. elegans can substitute for C. elegans Hox proteins in the control of three different cell-fate decisions: the regulation of cell migration, the specification of serotonergic neurons, and the specification of a sensory structure. We also show that the specificity of one C. elegans Hox protein is partly determined by two amino acids that have been implicated in sequence-specific DNA binding. Together these findings suggest that factors important for target recognition by specific Hox proteins have been conserved throughout much of the animal kingdom.

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