Hox genes (HOX in humans), an evolutionary preserved gene family, are key determinants of embryonic development and cell memory gene program. Hox genes are organized in four clusters on four chromosomal loci aligned in 13 paralogous groups based on sequence homology (Hox gene network). During development Hox genes are transcribed, according to the rule of "spatio-temporal collinearity", with early regulators of anterior body regions located at the 3' end of each Hox cluster and the later regulators of posterior body regions placed at the distal 5' end. The onset of 3' Hox gene activation is determined by Wingless-type MMTV integration site family (Wnt) signaling, whereas 5' Hox activation is due to paralogous group 13 genes, which act as posterior-inhibitors of more anterior Hox proteins (posterior prevalence). Deregulation of HOX genes is associated with developmental abnormalities and different human diseases. Paralogous HOX13 genes (HOX A13, HOX B13, HOX C13 and HOX D13) also play a relevant role in tumor development and progression. In this review, we will discuss the role of paralogous HOX13 genes regarding their regulatory mechanisms during carcinogenesis and tumor progression and their use as biomarkers for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Keywords: HOX gene network; paralogous HOX 13 genes; tumor diseases.