Posterior Hox gene expression and differential androgen regulation in the developing and adult rat prostate lobes

Endocrinology. 2007 Mar;148(3):1235-45. doi: 10.1210/en.2006-1250. Epub 2006 Nov 30.


Axis positioning and tissue determination during development involve coordinated expression of Hox genes throughout the body. The most posterior Hox gene clusters are involved in prostate organogenesis. In the present study, we characterized and compared the expression profiles of posterior (5') Hox genes in the separate lobes of the adult rat prostate gland, the coagulating gland, seminal vesicles, and epididymis using quantitative real-time RT-PCR. These genes include Hoxa9-11, Hoxa13, Hoxd13, and Hoxb13. We identified a unique Hox code for each of these organs and propose that this contributes to the organ-specific and prostate lobe-specific identities in the adult rat. Using the ventral prostate (VP) as a model, we characterized the Hox genes expression patterns over time from birth through adulthood. Expression levels of the three Hox13 genes and Hoxa10 were significantly higher in the adult VP compared with the neonatal developing VP suggesting an important role during adult homeostasis. In contrast, Hoxa9 and Hoxa11 levels declined after morphogenesis suggesting a specific developmental role. Overall, the Hoxb13 gene exhibited the most striking temporal and organ-specific differences. Using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, a distinct Hoxb13 anterior-to-posterior expression gradient was observed with the highest expression levels in the VP luminal epithelial cells, moderate levels in the lateral prostate, and low expression in the dorsal prostate. An expression gradient was also observed along the ductal length in all three prostate lobes with strongest expression at the distal tips and limited expression in the proximal ducts. After infection with a lentivirus expressing the Hoxb13 gene, NRP-152 cells cultured under nondifferentiating conditions exhibited robust cytokeratin 8 immunostain indicating that Hoxb13 expression drives luminal cell differentiation in the rat epithelium. Androgen regulation of prostatic Hox gene expression was examined during development in vitro and after castration in the adult rat. In the neonatal VP, all six Hox genes were significantly up-regulated by androgens, whereas none of the genes were affected by testosterone in the lateral prostate. In the adult rat, castration resulted in up-regulation of Hoxa9 and Hoxa13 in the VP and down-regulation of Hoxb13 in the dorsal prostate and lateral prostate. Taken together, we conclude that the prostatic Hox genes reach a destined expression level at specific developmental time points in the prostate gland and possess differential androgenic regulation in a temporal and lobe-specific manner. We suggest that this timely Hox code participates in determining lobe-specific prostatic identity and cellular differentiation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prostate / cytology
  • Prostate / drug effects
  • Prostate / growth & development*
  • Prostate / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Androgens
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Hoxb13 protein, rat