Homeobox genes are transcription factors primarily involved in embryonic development. Several homeobox gene families have so far been identified: Hox, EMX, PAX, MSX as well as many isolated divergent homeobox genes. Among these, Hox genes are most intriguing for having a regulatory network structure organization. Recent indications suggest the involvement of homeobox genes in (i) crucial adult eukariotic cell functions and (ii) human diseases, spanning from diabetes to cancer. In this review we will discuss the mechanisms through which homeobox genes act, and will propose a model for the function of the Hox gene network as decoding system for achieving specific genetic programs. New technologies for whole-genome RNA expression will be crucial to evaluate the clinical relevance of homeobox genes in structural and metabolic diseases.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.