An examination of the Chiropteran HoxD locus from an evolutionary perspective

Evol Dev. Nov-Dec 2008;10(6):657-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2008.00279.x.


Duplications of Hox gene clusters have been suggested as a mechanism whereby new Hox functions can be developed while preserving critical ancestral roles. However, in tetrapods, particularly in mammals, there is great variability in limb structure morphologies that are known to be affected by Hox genes without further Hox cluster duplications. The lack of further duplications suggests that if Hox genes have played a direct role in the morphological elaboration of tetrapod limbs, the changes must have come about from Hox protein sequence changes or from changes regarding the amount, time, and place of Hox gene expression. To investigate whether such changes to Hox genes could play a role in limb elaboration, we examined the HoxD locus in bats, which have both highly elaborated fore- and hindlimbs. We found that while the Chiropteran HoxD13 protein was highly conserved, there was an expansion of HoxD13 expression in the posterior portion of the Chiropteran forelimb and into the leading edge of the wing membrane. We were also able to uncover a number of unique lineage-specific sequence changes to a known HoxD limb enhancer, the Global Control Region (GCR). Further, mouse transgenic assays showed that the Chiropteran GCR has new limb enhancer activity domains beyond that reported for the Human GCR. These results suggest that modulation of Hox gene expression may be a mechanism for effecting morphological change in lineage-specific manner while maintaining ancestral constraints and cluster integrity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / embryology
  • Chiroptera / genetics*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Homeodomain Proteins / chemistry
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors