Hox genes as synchronized temporal regulators: implications for morphological innovation.

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Journal of experimental zoology. Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution, ISSN: 1552-5007, Vol: 295, Issue: 1, Page: 1-11

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Crawford, Michael J
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; Biology; Life Sciences
article description
In vertebrates, clusters of Hox genes express in a nested and hierarchical fashion to endow the embryo's segments with discrete identities. Later in development, members of the same gene family are employed again to pattern the limb, intestinal, and reproductive systems. A careful analysis of the morphologies of Hox mutant mice suggests that the genes provide qualitatively different cues during the specification of segments than they do during the development of more recently derived structures. In addition to the regulatory differences noted by others, the activity of Hox genes during specification of the vertebrate metameres in some recent deletion experiments is inconsistent with a role for them as strictly spatial determinants. On the contrary, the phenotypes observed are suggestive of a role for them as elements of a generic time-keeping mechanism. By contrast, the specification of more recent evolutionary structures appears to be more spatial and gene-specific. These differences in role and effect may suggest some simple mechanisms by which the Hox clusters operate, and rules by which gene networks can be diverted to create new structures over the course of evolution. Specific predictions and experiments are proposed.