Hox genes have been implicated in specifying positional values along the anteroposterior axis of the caudal central nervous system, but their nested and overlapping expression has complicated the understanding of how they confer specific neural identity. We have employed a direct gain-of-function approach using retroviral vectors to misexpress Hoxa2 and Hoxb1 outside of the normal Hox expression domains, thereby avoiding complications resulting from possible interactions with endogenous Hox genes. Misexpression of either Hoxa2 or Hoxb1 in the anteriormost hindbrain (rhombomere1, r1) leads to the generation of motor neurons in this territory, even though it is normally devoid of this cell type. These ectopic neurons have the specific identity of branchiomotor neurons and, in the case of Hoxb1-induced cells, their axons leave the hindbrain either by fasciculating with the resident cranial motor axons at isthmic (trochlear) or r2 (trigeminal) levels of the axis or via novel ectopic exit points in r1. Next, we have attempted to identify the precise branchiomotor subtypes that are generated after misexpression and our results suggest that the ectopic motor neurons generated following Hoxa2 misexpression are trigeminal-like, while those generated following Hoxb1 misexpression are facial-like. Our data demonstrate, therefore, that at least to a certain extent and for certain cell types, the singular activities of individual Hox genes (compared to a combinatorial mode of action, for example) are sufficient to impose on neuronal precursor cells the competence to generate distinctly specified cell types. Moreover, as these particular motor neuron subtypes are normally generated in the most anterior domains of Hoxa2 and Hoxb1 expression, respectively, our data support the idea that the main site of individual Hox gene action is in the anteriormost subdomain of their expression, consistent with the phenomenon of posterior dominance.
Specification of distinct motor neuron identities by the singular activities of individual Hox genes
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S. Jungbluth, E. Bell, A. Lumsden; Specification of distinct motor neuron identities by the singular activities of individual Hox genes. Development 15 June 1999; 126 (12): 2751–2758. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.126.12.2751
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