HOX13-dependent chromatin accessibility underlies the transition towards the digit development program

Nat Commun. 2020 May 19;11(1):2491. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16317-2.


Hox genes encode transcription factors (TFs) that establish morphological diversity in the developing embryo. The similar DNA-binding motifs of the various HOX TFs contrast with the wide-range of HOX-dependent genetic programs. The influence of the chromatin context on HOX binding specificity remains elusive. Here, we used the developing limb as a model system to compare the binding specificity of HOXA13 and HOXD13 (HOX13 hereafter), which are required for digit formation, and HOXA11, involved in forearm/leg development. We find that upon ectopic expression in distal limb buds, HOXA11 binds sites normally HOX13-specific. Importantly, these sites are loci whose chromatin accessibility relies on HOX13. Moreover, we show that chromatin accessibility specific to the distal limb requires HOX13 function. Based on these results, we propose that HOX13 TFs pioneer the distal limb-specific chromatin accessibility landscape for the proper implementation of the distal limb developmental program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Forelimb / embryology
  • Forelimb / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Limb Buds / embryology
  • Limb Buds / metabolism*
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Protein Binding


  • Chromatin
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Hoxa11 protein, mouse
  • homeobox protein HOXA13