Hox genes and the parasitic flatworms: new opportunities, challenges and lessons from the free-living

Parasitol Int. 2008 Mar;57(1):8-17. doi: 10.1016/j.parint.2007.09.007. Epub 2007 Oct 11.


Research into the roles played by Hox and related homeotic gene families in the diverse and complex developmental programmes exhibited by parasitic flatworms (Platyhelminthes) can hardly be said to have begun, and thus presents considerable opportunity for new research. Although featured in some of the earliest screens for homeotic genes outside Drosophila and mice, surveys in parasitic flatworms are few in number and almost nothing is yet known of where or when the genes are expressed during ontogeny. This contrasts sharply with a significant body of literature concerning Hox genes in free-living flatworms which have long served as models for the study of regeneration and the maintenance of omnipotent cell lines. Nevertheless, available information suggests that the complement of Hox genes and other classes of homeobox-containing genes in parasitic flatworms is typical of their free-living cousins and of other members of the Lophotrochozoa. Recent work on Schistosoma combined with information on Hox gene expression in planarians indicates that at least some disruption of the clustered genomic arrangement of the genes, as well as of the strict spatial and temporal colinear patterns of expression typical in other groups, may be characteristic of flatworms. However, available data on the genomic arrangement and expression of flatworm Hox genes is so limited at present that such generalities are highly tenuous. Moreover, a basic underlying pattern of colinearity is still observed in their spatial expression patterns making them suitable as cell or region-specific markers. I discuss a number of fundamental developmental questions and some of the challenges to addressing them in relation to each of the major parasitic lineages. In addition, I present newly characterized Hox genes from the model tapeworm Hymenolepis and analyze these by Bayesian inference together with >100 Hox and ParaHox homeodomains of flatworms and select lophotrochozoan taxa, providing a phylogenetic scaffold for their identification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Gene Order
  • Genes, Homeobox / genetics*
  • Genes, Homeobox / physiology
  • Hymenolepis / genetics
  • Parasites / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Platyhelminths / genetics*