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Development. 2003 Oct;130(20):4823-34. Epub 2003 Aug 13.

Enhancer timing of Hox gene expression: deletion of the endogenous Hoxc8 early enhancer.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


The proper expression of Hox genes is necessary for the accurate patterning of the body plan. The elucidation of the developmental genetic basis of transcriptional regulation of Hox genes by the study of their cis-regulatory elements provides crucial information regarding the establishment of axial specification. In this report, we investigate the role of the early enhancer (EE) of the murine Hoxc8 gene to better understand its role in pattern formation. Previous reports show that knockouts of the endogenous Hoxc8 coding region result in a combination of neural, behavioral and skeletal phenotypes. In this report, we limit ourselves to a consideration of the skeletal abnormalities. Early reports from our laboratory based on exogenous transgenic reporter constructs implicate a 200 bp non-coding element 3 kb upstream of the Hoxc8 promoter as a crucial enhancer that regulates the transcription of Hoxc8. In the present work, we have deleted this regulatory region from the endogenous genome using embryonic stem cell technology. Our results show that the deletion of the EE results in a significant delay in the temporal expression of Hoxc8. We also show that the deletion of the EE does not eliminate the expression of the Hoxc8 protein, but delays the attainment of control levels of expression and anterior and posterior boundaries of expression on the AP axis. The temporal delay in Hoxc8 expression is sufficient to produce phenocopies of many of the axial skeletal defects associated with the complete absence of Hoxc8 gene product as previously reported for the Hoxc8-null mutation. Our results are consistent with emerging evidence that the precise temporal expression of Hox genes is crucial for the establishment of regional identities. The fact that the EE deletion does not eliminate Hoxc8 expression indicates the existence of a Hoxc8 transcriptional regulatory apparatus independent to some degree of the Hoxc8 EE. In a comparison of our results with those reported previously by others investigating temporal control of Hox gene expression, we have discovered a structural similarity between the Hoxc8 EE reported here and a transcriptional control element located in the Hoxd11 region. We speculate that a distributed system of expression timing control may exist that is similar the one we propose for Hoxc8. Last, our data is consistent with the position that disparate regulatory pathways are responsible for the expression of Hoxc8 in the organogenesis of somites, neural tube and limb bud.

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