A combination of activation and repression by a colinear Hox code controls forelimb-restricted expression of Tbx5 and reveals Hox protein specificity.
ABSTRACT: Tight control over gene expression is essential for precision in embryonic development and acquisition of the regulatory elements responsible is the predominant driver for evolution of new structures. Tbx5 and Tbx4, two genes expressed in forelimb and hindlimb-forming regions respectively, play crucial roles in the initiation of limb outgrowth. Evolution of regulatory elements that activate Tbx5 in rostral LPM was essential for the acquisition of forelimbs in vertebrates. We identified such a regulatory element for Tbx5 and demonstrated Hox genes are essential, direct regulators. While the importance of Hox genes in regulating embryonic development is clear, Hox targets and the ways in which each protein executes its specific function are not known. We reveal how nested Hox expression along the rostro-caudal axis restricts Tbx5 expression to forelimb. We demonstrate that Hoxc9, which is expressed in caudal LPM where Tbx5 is not expressed, can form a repressive complex on the Tbx5 forelimb regulatory element. This repressive capacity is limited to Hox proteins expressed in caudal LPM and carried out by two separate protein domains in Hoxc9. Forelimb-restricted expression of Tbx5 and ultimately forelimb formation is therefore achieved through co-option of two characteristics of Hox genes; their colinear expression along the body axis and the functional specificity of different paralogs. Active complexes can be formed by Hox PG proteins present throughout the rostral-caudal LPM while restriction of Tbx5 expression is achieved by superimposing a dominant repressive (Hoxc9) complex that determines the caudal boundary of Tbx5 expression. Our results reveal the regulatory mechanism that ensures emergence of the forelimbs at the correct position along the body. Acquisition of this regulatory element would have been critical for the evolution of limbs in vertebrates and modulation of the factors we have identified can be molecular drivers of the diversity in limb morphology.
Project description:Tbx4 and Tbx5 are two closely related T-box genes that encode transcription factors expressed in the prospective hindlimb and forelimb territories, respectively, of all jawed vertebrates. Despite their striking limb type-restricted expression pattern, we have shown that these genes do not participate in the acquisition of limb type-specific morphologies. Instead, Tbx4 and Tbx5 play similar roles in the initiation of hindlimb and forelimb outgrowth, respectively. We hypothesized that different combinations of Hox proteins expressed in different rostral and caudal domains of the lateral plate mesoderm, where limb induction occurs, might be involved in regulating the limb type-restricted expression of Tbx4 and Tbx5 and in the later determination of limb type-specific morphologies. Here, we identify the minimal regulatory element sufficient for the earliest forelimb-restricted expression of the mouse Tbx5 gene and show that this sequence is Hox responsive. Our results support a mechanism in which Hox genes act upstream of Tbx5 to control the axial position of forelimb formation.
Project description:In the developing spinal cord, regional and combinatorial activities of Hox transcription factors are critical in controlling motor neuron fates along the rostrocaudal axis, exemplified by the precise pattern of limb innervation by more than fifty Hox-dependent motor pools. The mechanisms by which motor neuron diversity is constrained to limb levels are, however, not well understood. We show that a single Hox gene, Hoxc9, has an essential role in organizing the motor system through global repressive activities. Hoxc9 is required for the generation of thoracic motor columns, and in its absence, neurons acquire the fates of limb-innervating populations. Unexpectedly, multiple Hox genes are derepressed in Hoxc9 mutants, leading to motor pool disorganization and alterations in the connections by thoracic and forelimb-level subtypes. Genome-wide analysis of Hoxc9 binding suggests that this mode of repression is mediated by direct interactions with Hox regulatory elements, independent of chromatin marks typically associated with repressed Hox genes.
Project description:Although Hox genes encode for conserved transcription factors (TFs), they are further divided into anterior, central and posterior groups based on their DNA-binding domain similarity. The posterior Hox group expanded in the deuterostome clade and patterns caudal and distal structures. We aimed to address how similar Hox TFs diverge to induce different positional identities. We studied Hox TF DNA-binding and regulatory activity during an in vitro motor neuron differentiation system that recapitulates embryonic development. We found diversity in the genomic binding profiles of different Hox TFs, even among the posterior group paralogs that share similar DNA-binding domains. These differences in genomic binding were explained by differing abilities to bind to previously inaccessible sites. For example, the posterior group HOXC9 had a greater ability to bind occluded sites than the posterior HOXC10, producing different binding patterns and driving differential gene expression programs. From these results, we propose that the differential abilities of posterior Hox TFs to bind to previously inaccessible chromatin drive patterning diversification.This article has an associated 'The people behind the papers' interview.
Project description:A critical step in the assembly of the neural circuits that control tetrapod locomotion is the specification of the lateral motor column (LMC), a diverse motor neuron population targeting limb musculature. Hox6 paralog group genes have been implicated as key determinants of LMC fate at forelimb levels of the spinal cord, through their ability to promote expression of the LMC-restricted genes Foxp1 and Raldh2 and to suppress thoracic fates through exclusion of Hoxc9. The specific roles and mechanisms of Hox6 gene function in LMC neurons, however, are not known. We show that Hox6 genes are critical for diverse facets of LMC identity and define motifs required for their in vivo specificities. Although Hox6 genes are necessary for generating the appropriate number of LMC neurons, they are not absolutely required for the induction of forelimb LMC molecular determinants. In the absence of Hox6 activity, LMC identity appears to be preserved through a diverse array of Hox5-Hox8 paralogs, which are sufficient to reprogram thoracic motor neurons to an LMC fate. In contrast to the apparently permissive Hox inputs to early LMC gene programs, individual Hox genes, such as Hoxc6, have specific roles in promoting motor neuron pool diversity within the LMC. Dissection of motifs required for Hox in vivo specificities reveals that either cross-repressive interactions or cooperativity with Pbx cofactors are sufficient to induce LMC identity, with the N-terminus capable of promoting columnar, but not pool, identity when transferred to a heterologous homeodomain. These results indicate that Hox proteins orchestrate diverse aspects of cell fate specification through both the convergent regulation of gene programs regulated by many paralogs and also more restricted actions encoded through specificity determinants in the N-terminus.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The forelimb-specific gene tbx5 is highly conserved and essential for the development of forelimbs in zebrafish, mice, and humans. Amongst birds, a single order, Dinornithiformes, comprising the extinct wingless moa of New Zealand, are unique in having no skeletal evidence of forelimb-like structures. RESULTS:To determine the sequence of tbx5 in moa, we used a range of PCR-based techniques on ancient DNA to retrieve all nine tbx5 exons and splice sites from the giant moa, Dinornis. Moa Tbx5 is identical to chicken Tbx5 in being able to activate the downstream promotors of fgf10 and ANF. In addition we show that missexpression of moa tbx5 in the hindlimb of chicken embryos results in the formation of forelimb features, suggesting that Tbx5 was fully functional in wingless moa. An alternatively spliced exon 1 for tbx5 that is expressed specifically in the forelimb region was shown to be almost identical between moa and ostrich, suggesting that, as well as being fully functional, tbx5 is likely to have been expressed normally in moa since divergence from their flighted ancestors, approximately 60 mya. CONCLUSIONS:The results suggests that, as in mice, moa tbx5 is necessary for the induction of forelimbs, but is not sufficient for their outgrowth. Moa Tbx5 may have played an important role in the development of moa's remnant forelimb girdle, and may be required for the formation of this structure. Our results further show that genetic changes affecting genes other than tbx5 must be responsible for the complete loss of forelimbs in moa.
Project description:Limb position along the body is highly consistent within one species but very variable among vertebrates. Despite major advances in our understanding of limb patterning in three dimensions, how limbs reproducibly form along the antero-posterior axis remains largely unknown. Hox genes have long been suspected to control limb position; however, supporting evidences are mostly correlative and their role in this process is unclear. Here, we show that limb position is determined early in development through the action of Hox genes. Dynamic lineage analysis revealed that, during gastrulation, the forelimb, interlimb, and hindlimb fields are progressively generated and concomitantly patterned by the collinear activation of Hox genes in a two-step process. First, the sequential activation of Hoxb genes controls the relative position of their own collinear domains of expression in the forming lateral plate mesoderm, as demonstrated by functional perturbations during gastrulation. Then, within these collinear domains, we show that Hoxb4 anteriorly and Hox9 genes posteriorly, respectively, activate and repress the expression of the forelimb initiation gene Tbx5 and instruct the definitive position of the forelimb. Furthermore, by comparing the dynamics of Hoxb genes activation during zebra finch, chicken, and ostrich gastrulation, we provide evidences that changes in the timing of collinear Hox gene activation might underlie natural variation in forelimb position between different birds. Altogether, our results that characterize the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation and natural variation of forelimb positioning in avians show a direct and early role for Hox genes in this process.
Project description:The forelimbs and hindlimbs of vertebrates are bilaterally symmetric. The mechanisms that ensure symmetric limb formation are unknown but they can be disrupted in disease. In Holt-Oram Syndrome (HOS), caused by mutations in TBX5, affected individuals have left-biased upper/forelimb defects. We demonstrate a role for the transcription factor Tbx5 in ensuring the symmetric formation of the left and right forelimb. In our mouse model, bilateral hypomorphic levels of Tbx5 produces asymmetric forelimb defects that are consistently more severe in the left limb than the right, phenocopying the left-biased limb defects seen in HOS patients. In Tbx hypomorphic mutants maintained on an INV mutant background, with situs inversus, the laterality of defects is reversed. Our data demonstrate an early, inherent asymmetry in the left and right limb-forming regions and that threshold levels of Tbx5 are required to overcome this asymmetry to ensure symmetric forelimb formation.
Project description:Polycomb and Trithorax group proteins encode the epigenetic memory of cellular positional identity by establishing inheritable domains of repressive and active chromatin within the Hox clusters. Here we demonstrate that the CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) functions to insulate these adjacent yet antagonistic chromatin domains during embryonic stem cell differentiation into cervical motor neurons. Deletion of CTCF binding sites within the Hox clusters results in the expansion of active chromatin into the repressive domain. CTCF functions as an insulator by organizing Hox clusters into spatially disjoint domains. Ablation of CTCF binding disrupts topological boundaries such that caudal Hox genes leave the repressed domain and become subject to transcriptional activation. Hence, CTCF is required to insulate facultative heterochromatin from impinging euchromatin to produce discrete positional identities.
Project description:Current models hold that the early limb field becomes polarized into anterior and posterior domains by the opposing activities of Hand2 and Gli3. This polarization is essential for the initiation of Shh expression in the posterior margin of the limb bud, but how this polarity is established is not clear. Here we show that initial anteroposterior polarization of the early forelimb field requires the function of all four Hox9 paralogs (Hoxa9, Hoxb9, Hoxc9, and Hoxd9). This is unexpected, given that only HoxA and HoxD AbdB group genes have been shown to play a role in forelimb patterning, regulating the activation and maintenance of Shh expression and subsequent proximal-distal patterning of the forelimb. Our analysis of Hox9 quadruple mutants demonstrates that Hox9 function is required for the expression of Hand2 in the posterior limb field. Subsequently, Gli3 expression is not repressed posteriorly, Shh expression is not initiated, and collinear expression of HoxA/D10-13 is not established, resulting in severely malformed forelimbs lacking all posterior, Shh-regulated elements. This Hox9 mutant phenotype is restricted to the forelimbs; mutant hindlimbs are normal, revealing fundamental differences in the patterning mechanisms governing the establishment of forelimb and hindlimb fields.
Project description:Neuroblastoma is an embryonal malignancy of the sympathetic nervous system. Spontaneous regression and differentiation of neuroblastoma is observed in a subset of patients, and has been suggested to represent delayed activation of physiologic molecular programs of fetal neuroblasts. Homeobox genes constitute an important family of transcription factors, which play a fundamental role in morphogenesis and cell differentiation during embryogenesis. In this study, we demonstrate that expression of the majority of the human HOX class I homeobox genes is significantly associated with clinical covariates in neuroblastoma using microarray expression data of 649 primary tumors. Moreover, a HOX gene expression-based classifier predicted neuroblastoma patient outcome independently of age, stage and MYCN amplification status. Among all HOX genes, HOXC9 expression was most prominently associated with favorable prognostic markers. Most notably, elevated HOXC9 expression was significantly associated with spontaneous regression in infant neuroblastoma. Re-expression of HOXC9 in three neuroblastoma cell lines led to a significant reduction in cell viability, and abrogated tumor growth almost completely in neuroblastoma xenografts. Neuroblastoma growth arrest was related to the induction of programmed cell death, as indicated by an increase in the sub-G1 fraction and translocation of phosphatidylserine to the outer membrane. Programmed cell death was associated with the release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria into the cytosol and activation of the intrinsic cascade of caspases, indicating that HOXC9 re-expression triggers the intrinsic apoptotic pathway. Collectively, our results show a strong prognostic impact of HOX gene expression in neuroblastoma, and may point towards a role of Hox-C9 in neuroblastoma spontaneous regression.