Hox genes: Downstream "effectors" of retinoic acid signaling in vertebrate embryogenesis

Genesis. 2019 Jul;57(7-8):e23306. doi: 10.1002/dvg.23306. Epub 2019 May 21.


One of the major regulatory challenges of animal development is to precisely coordinate in space and time the formation, specification, and patterning of cells that underlie elaboration of the basic body plan. How does the vertebrate plan for the nervous and hematopoietic systems, heart, limbs, digestive, and reproductive organs derive from seemingly similar population of cells? These systems are initially established and patterned along the anteroposterior axis (AP) by opposing signaling gradients that lead to the activation of gene regulatory networks involved in axial specification, including the Hox genes. The retinoid signaling pathway is one of the key signaling gradients coupled to the establishment of axial patterning. The nested domains of Hox gene expression, which provide a combinatorial code for axial patterning, arise in part through a differential response to retinoic acid (RA) diffusing from anabolic centers established within the embryo during development. Hence, Hox genes are important direct effectors of retinoid signaling in embryogenesis. This review focuses on describing current knowledge on the complex mechanisms and regulatory processes, which govern the response of Hox genes to RA in several tissue contexts including the nervous system during vertebrate development.

Keywords: Hox genes; gene regulation; hindbrain patterning; retinoic acid response elements; retinoid signaling; vertebrate development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular System / embryology
  • Cardiovascular System / metabolism
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Hematopoietic System / embryology
  • Hematopoietic System / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Tretinoin