Assisting Hox proteins in controlling body form: are there new lessons from flies (and mammals)?

Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2005 Aug;15(4):422-9. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2005.06.009.


Hox proteins regulate specific sets of target genes to give rise to morphological distinctions along the anterior-posterior body axis of metazoans. Though they have high developmental specificity, Hox proteins have low DNA binding specificity, so how they select the appropriate target genes has remained enigmatic. There is general agreement that cofactors provide additional specificity, but a comprehensive model of Hox control of gene expression has not emerged. There is now evidence that a global network of zinc finger transcription factors contributes to patterning of the Drosophila embryo. These zinc finger proteins appear to establish fields in which certain Hox proteins can function. Though the nature of these fields is uncertain at this time, it is possible that these zinc finger proteins are Hox cofactors, providing additional specificity during Hox target-gene selection. Furthermore, these zinc finger proteins are conserved, as are aspects of their anterior-posterior expression, suggesting that their roles might be conserved, as well. Perhaps this layer in the genetic control of body patterning will help bridge some of the chasms that remain in our understanding of the genetic control of pattern formation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Diptera / embryology
  • Diptera / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Zinc Fingers / genetics


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins