Nuclear reorganisation and chromatin decondensation are conserved, but distinct, mechanisms linked to Hox gene activation

Development. 2007 Mar;134(5):909-19. doi: 10.1242/dev.02779. Epub 2007 Jan 24.


The relocalisation of some genes to positions outside chromosome territories, and the visible decondensation or unfolding of interphase chromatin, are two striking facets of nuclear reorganisation linked to gene activation that have been assumed to be related to each other. Here, in a study of nuclear reorganisation around the Hoxd cluster, we suggest that this may not be the case. Despite its very different genomic environment from Hoxb, Hoxd also loops out from its chromosome territory, and unfolds, upon activation in differentiating embryonic stem (ES) cells and in the tailbud of the embryo. However, looping out and decondensation are not simply two different manifestations of the same underlying change in chromatin structure. We show that, in the limb bud of the embryonic day 9.5 embryo, where Hoxd is also activated, there is visible decondensation of chromatin but no detectable movement of the region out from the chromosome territory. During ES cell differentiation, decondensed alleles can also be found inside of chromosome territories, and loci that have looped out of the territories can appear to still be condensed. We conclude that evolutionarily conserved chromosome remodelling mechanisms, predating the duplication of mammalian Hox loci, underlie Hox regulation along the rostrocaudal embryonic axis. However, we suggest that separate modes of regulation can modify Hoxd chromatin in different ways in different developmental contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatin / physiology*
  • Chromosomes, Mammalian / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Mammalian / ultrastructure
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Limb Buds / embryology
  • Limb Buds / physiology
  • Mice
  • Multigene Family / physiology*
  • Tail / embryology
  • Tail / physiology
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Chromatin
  • Homeodomain Proteins