The vertebral column is a characteristic structure of vertebrates. Genetic studies in mice have shown that Hox-mediated patterning plays a key role in specifying discrete anatomical regions of the vertebral column. Expression pattern analyses in several vertebrate embryos have provided correlative evidence that the anterior boundaries of Hox expression coincide with distinct anatomical vertebrae. However, because functional analyses have been limited to mice, it remains unclear which Hox genes actually function in vertebral patterning in other vertebrates. In this study, various zebrafish Hox mutants were generated for loss-of-function phenotypic analysis to functionally decipher the Hox code responsible for the zebrafish anterior vertebrae between the occipital and thoracic vertebrae. We found that Hox genes in HoxB- and HoxC-related clusters participate in regulating the morphology of the zebrafish anterior vertebrae. In addition, medaka hoxc6a was found to be responsible for anterior vertebral identity, as in zebrafish. Based on phenotypic similarities with Hoxc6 knockout mice, our results suggest that the Hox patterning system, including at least Hoxc6, may have been functionally established in the vertebral patterning of the common ancestor of ray-finned and lobe-finned fishes.

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