In this paper, we review experiments to characterise the developmental expression and the responses to all-trans retinoic acid (RA) of six members of the Hox-2 complex of homeobox-containing genes, during the early development of Xenopus laevis. We showed that the six genes are expressed in a spatial sequence which is colinear with their putative 3′ to 5′ chromosomal sequence and that five of them are also expressed rapidly after the beginning of gastrulation, in a 3′ to 5′ colinear temporal sequence. The sixth gene (Xhox2.9) has an exceptional spatial and temporal expression pattern. The six genes all respond to RA by showing altered spatiotemporal expression patterns, and are also RA-inducible, the sequence of the magnitudes of their RA responses being colinear with their 3′ to 5′ chromosomal sequence, and with their spatial and temporal expression sequences. Our data also reveal that there is a pre-existing anteroposterior polarity in the embryo's competence for a response to RA. These results complement and extend previous findings made using murine and avian embryos and mammalian cell lines. They suggest that an endogenous retinoid could contribute to positional information in the early Xenopus embryo.

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