Adult urodele amphibians can regenerate their limbs and tail. Based on their roles in other developing systems, Hox genes are strong candidates for genes that play a role in regulating pattern formation during regeneration. There are four homologous clusters of Hox genes in vertebrate genomes. We isolated cDNA clones of two newt homeobox genes from homologous positions within two Hox clusters; Hox-4.5 and Hox-3.6. We used RNase protection on nonamputated (normal) and regenerating newt appendages and tissue to compare their transcriptional patterns. Both genes show increased expression upon amputation with similar kinetics. Hox-4.5 and Hox-3.6 transcription is limited to the mesenchymal cells in the regenerates and is not found in the epithelial tissue. In addition to regenerating appendages, both genes are transcriptionally active in adult kidney of the newt. Striking differences were found in the regulation of Hox-4.5 and Hox-3.6 when they were compared in unamputated limbs and in regenerating forelimbs versus regenerating hindlimbs. Hox-4.5 is expressed in the blastema of regenerating fore- and hindlimbs, but Hox-4.5 transcripts are not detectable in normal limbs. In contrast, Hox-3.6 transcripts are found exclusively in posterior appendages, but are present in normal as well as regenerating hindlimbs and tails. Hox-4.5 is also expressed at a higher level in proximal (mid-humerus) regenerates than in distal ones (mid-radius). When we proximalized the positional memory of a distal blastema with retinoic acid, we find that the early expression level of Hox-4.5 is also proximalized. When the expression of these genes is compared to the expression of two previously reported newt Hox genes, a consistent pattern emerges, which can be interpreted in terms of differential roles for the different Hox clusters in determining regenerative limb morphology.

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