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EMBO J. 1998 Mar 16;17(6):1788-98.

Selectivity, sharing and competitive interactions in the regulation of Hoxb genes.

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Division of Developmental Neurobiology, National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK.


The clustered organisation of Hox complexes is highly conserved in vertebrates and the reasons for this are believed to be linked with the regulatory mechanisms governing their expression. In analysis of the Hoxb4-Hoxb6 region of the HoxB complex we identified enhancers which lie in the intergenic region between Hoxb4 and Hoxb5, and which are capable of mediating the correct boundaries of neural and mesodermal expression for Hoxb5. We examined their regulatory properties in the context of the local genomic region spanning the two genes by transgenic analysis, in which each promoter was independently marked with a different reporter, to monitor simultaneously the relative transcriptional read-outs from each gene. Our analysis revealed that within this intergenic region: (i) a limb and a neural enhancer selectively activate Hoxb4 as opposed to Hoxb5; (ii) a separate neural enhancer is able to activate both genes, but expression is dependent upon competition between the two promoters for the enhancer and is influenced by the local genomic context; (iii) mesodermal enhancer activities can be shared between the genes. We found similar types of regulatory interactions between Hoxb5 and Hoxb6. Together these results provide evidence for three separate general mechanisms: selectivity, competition and sharing, that control the balance of cis-regulatory interactions necessary for generating the proper spatial and temporal patterns of Hox gene expression. We suggest that these mechanisms are part of a regulatory basis for maintenance of Hox organisation.

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