We have characterized cis-acting elements that direct the early phase of Hoxc-8 expression using reporter gene analysis in transgenic mice. By deletion we show that a 135 bp DNA fragment, located approximately 3 kb upstream of the coding region of Hoxc-8, is capable of directing posterior neural tube expression. This early neural tube (ENT) enhancer consists of four separate elements, designated A, B, C and D, whose nucleotide sequences are similar to binding sites of known transcription factors. Nucleotide substitutions suggest that element A is an essential component of the ENT enhancer. However element A by itself is incapable of directing neural tube expression. This element requires interactions at any two of the other three elements, B, C or D. Thus, the components of the ENT enhancer direct neural tube expression in an interdependent manner. We propose that Hoxc-8 is activated in the neural tube by combinatorial interactions among several proteins acting within a small region. Our transgenic analyses provide a means to identify transcription factors that regulate Hoxc-8 expression during embryogenesis.

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