Homeodomain proteins: an update

Chromosoma. 2016 Jun;125(3):497-521. doi: 10.1007/s00412-015-0543-8. Epub 2015 Oct 13.


Here, we provide an update of our review on homeobox genes that we wrote together with Walter Gehring in 1994. Since then, comprehensive surveys of homeobox genes have become possible due to genome sequencing projects. Using the 103 Drosophila homeobox genes as example, we present an updated classification. In animals, there are 16 major classes, ANTP, PRD, PRD-LIKE, POU, HNF, CUT (with four subclasses: ONECUT, CUX, SATB, and CMP), LIM, ZF, CERS, PROS, SIX/SO, plus the TALE superclass with the classes IRO, MKX, TGIF, PBC, and MEIS. In plants, there are 11 major classes, i.e., HD-ZIP (with four subclasses: I to IV), WOX, NDX, PHD, PLINC, LD, DDT, SAWADEE, PINTOX, and the two TALE classes KNOX and BEL. Most of these classes encode additional domains apart from the homeodomain. Numerous insights have been obtained in the last two decades into how homeodomain proteins bind to DNA and increase their specificity by interacting with other proteins to regulate cell- and tissue-specific gene expression. Not only protein-DNA base pair contacts are important for proper target selection; recent experiments also reveal that the shape of the DNA plays a role in specificity. Using selected examples, we highlight different mechanisms of homeodomain protein-DNA interaction. The PRD class of homeobox genes was of special interest to Walter Gehring in the last two decades. The PRD class comprises six families in Bilateria, and tinkers with four different motifs, i.e., the PAIRED domain, the Groucho-interacting motif EH1 (aka Octapeptide or TN), the homeodomain, and the OAR motif. Homologs of the co-repressor protein Groucho are also present in plants (TOPLESS), where they have been shown to interact with small amphipathic motives (EAR), and in yeast (TUP1), where we find an EH1-like motif in MATα2.

Keywords: DNA binding; EH1 (Octapeptide/TN) motif; Homeobox; Homeodomain; Hox; PAIRED (PRD) domain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Genes, Homeobox / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / classification*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors