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Development. 1997 Aug;124(16):3135-46.

HOXD4 and regulation of the group 4 paralog genes.

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Division of Developmental Neurobiology, National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, UK.


From an evolutionary perspective, it is important to understand the degree of conservation of cis-regulatory mechanisms between paralogous Hox genes. In this study, we have used transgenic analysis of the human HOXD4 locus to identify one neural and two mesodermal 3' enhancers that are capable of mediating the proper anterior limits of expression in the hindbrain and paraxial mesoderm (somites), respectively. In addition to directing expression in the central nervous system (CNS) up to the correct rhombomere 6/7 boundary in the hindbrain, the neural enhancer also mediates a three rhombomere anterior shift from this boundary in response to retinoic acid (RA), mimicking the endogenous Hoxd4 response. We have extended the transgenic analysis to Hoxa4 identifying mesodermal, neural and retinoid responsive components in the 3' flanking region of that gene, which reflect aspects of endogenous Hoxa4 expression. Comparative analysis of the retinoid responses of Hoxd4, Hoxa4 and Hoxb4 reveals that, while they can be rapidly induced by RA, there is a window of competence for this response, which is different to that of more 3' Hox genes. Mesodermal regulation involves multiple regions with overlapping or related activity and is complex, but with respect to neural regulation and response to RA, Hoxb4 and Hoxd4 appear to be more closely related to each other than Hoxa4. These results illustrate that much of the general positioning of 5' and 3' flanking regulatory regions has been conserved between three of the group 4 paralogs during vertebrate evolution, which most likely reflects the original positioning of regulatory regions in the ancestral Hox complex.

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