Homeoproteins encoded by genes of the Hox family are nuclear proteins believed to act as transcription factors and to participate in the determination of the body plan. Here we show that in several vertebrate cells, they exhibit a subnuclear localisation associated with the nucleolus. We used monoclonal antibodies to study the distribution of three homeoproteins, namely HOXB7, HOXC6 and HOXD4. The immunoreactivity to antibodies against HOXC6 protein in Xenopus laevis embryonic tissues is restricted to one or two spots within the nucleus; this distribution partially overlaps that of fibrillarin, a protein of the fibrillar zone of the nucleoli. Indirect immunofluorescence analysis of the distribution of HOXB7 protein in 3T3 cells, and of HOXD4 protein in human neuroblastoma and Raji lymphoma cell lines and activated lymphocytes, results invariably in a nucleolar localisation. Purified nucleoli from stimulated T lymphocytes, and Raji cells contain an activity capable of binding, in a gel retardation assay, to an oligonucleotide specifically recognised by the HOXD4 homeoprotein. This activity is specifically removed by anti-HOXD4 antibodies and is found associated in southwestern blots with a single band with an apparent M(r) of 30,000, corresponding to that of recombinant HOXD4. The functional significance of the nucleolar localisation of Hox proteins remains to be determined.

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