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Development. 1997 Feb;124(3):627-36.

Analysis of Hoxd-13 and Hoxd-11 misexpression in chick limb buds reveals that Hox genes affect both bone condensation and growth.

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Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Hox genes are important regulators of limb pattern in vertebrate development. Misexpression of Hox genes in chicks using retroviral vectors provides an opportunity to analyze gain-of-function phenotypes and to assess their modes of action. Here we report the misexpression phenotype for Hoxd-13 and compare it to the misexpression phenotype of Hoxd-11. Hoxd-13 misexpression in the hindlimb results in a shortening of the long bones, including the femur, the tibia, the fibula and the tarsometatarsals. Mutations in an alanine repeat region in the N-terminus of Hoxd-13 have recently been implicated in human synpolydactyly (Muragaki, Y., Mundlos, S., Upton, J. and Olsen, B. R. (1996) Science 272, 548-551). N-terminal truncations of Hoxd-13 which lack this repeat were constructed and were found to produce a similar, although slightly milder, misexpression phenotype than the full-length Hoxd-13. The stage of bone development regulated by Hox genes has not previously been examined. The changes in bone lengths caused by Hoxd-13 misexpression are late phenotypes that first become apparent during the growth phase of the bones. Analysis of tritiated thymidine uptake by the tibia and fibula demonstrates that Hox genes can pattern the limb skeleton by regulating the rates of cell division in the proliferative zone of growing cartilage. Hoxd-11, in contrast to Hoxd-13, acts both at the initial cartilage condensation phase in the foot and during the later growth phase in the lower leg. Ectopic Hoxd-13 appears to act in a dominant negative manner in regions where it is not normally expressed. We propose a model in which all Hox genes are growth promoters, regulating the expression of the same target genes, with some Hox genes being more effective promoters of growth than other Hox genes. According to this model, the overall rate of growth in a given region is the result of the combined action of all of the Hox genes expressed in that region competing for the same target genes.

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