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Mol Cell Biol. 1994 Jul;14(7):4532-45.

Hox proteins have different affinities for a consensus DNA site that correlate with the positions of their genes on the hox cluster.

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Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway.


The hox genes, members of a family of essential developmental regulators, have the intriguing property that their expression in the developing murine embryo is colinear with their chromosomal organization. Members of the hox gene family share a conserved DNA binding domain, termed the homeodomain, which mediates interactions of Hox proteins with DNA regulatory elements in the transcriptional control regions of target genes. In this study, we characterized the DNA binding properties of five representative members of the Hox family: HoxA5, HoxB4, HoxA7, HoxC8, and HoxB1. To facilitate a comparative analysis of their DNA binding properties, we produced the homeodomain regions of these Hox proteins in Escherichia coli and obtained highly purified polypeptides. We showed that these Hox proteins interact in vitro with a common consensus DNA site that contains the motif (C/G)TAATTG. We further showed that the Hox proteins recognize the consensus DNA site in vivo, as determined by their ability to activate transcription through this site in transient transfection assays. Although they interact optimally with the consensus DNA site, the Hox proteins exhibit subtle, but distinct, preferences for DNA sites that contain variations of the nucleotides within the consensus motif. In addition to their modest differences in DNA binding specificities, the Hox proteins also vary in their relative affinities for DNA. Intriguingly, their relative affinities correlate with the positions of their respective genes on the hox cluster. These findings suggest that subtle differences in DNA binding specificity combined with differences in DNA binding affinity constitute features of the "Hox code" that contribute to the selective functions of Hox proteins during murine embryogenesis.

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