A conserved Hox axis in the mouse and human female reproductive system: late establishment and persistent adult expression of the Hoxa cluster genes

Biol Reprod. 1997 Dec;57(6):1338-45. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod57.6.1338.


The mammalian female reproductive system arises from the uniform paramesonephric duct. The molecular mechanisms that establish differential development along this axis are unknown. We determined the pattern and timing of genes of the Hoxa axis in the development of the Müllerian tract. Hoxa-9, Hoxa-10, Hoxa-11, and Hoxa-13 are all expressed along the length of the paramesonephric duct in the embryonic mouse. After birth, a spatial Hox axis is established, corresponding to the postnatal differentiation of this organ system in the mouse. Hoxa-9 is expressed in the fallopian tubes, Hoxa-10 in the uterus, Hoxa-11 in the uterus and uterine cervix, and Hoxa-13 in the upper vagina. This expression pattern follows the paradigm of spatial colinearity but is a novel exception to temporal colinearity that has been considered typical of Hox genes. These genes remain expressed in the adult mouse and are expressed in the same pattern in the human. The female reproductive system undergoes dramatic structural and functional changes during the estrous cycle and in pregnancy, retaining a high degree of developmental plasticity. The late establishment of a Hox axis and persistent expression of Hox genes in the adult may play an important role in preserving this plasticity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Fallopian Tubes / chemistry
  • Fallopian Tubes / embryology
  • Fallopian Tubes / growth & development
  • Female
  • Gene Expression*
  • Genes, Homeobox
  • Genitalia, Female / chemistry*
  • Genitalia, Female / embryology
  • Genitalia, Female / growth & development
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Mesonephros / chemistry
  • Mesonephros / growth & development
  • Mice
  • Mullerian Ducts / chemistry
  • Mullerian Ducts / growth & development
  • Pregnancy
  • Species Specificity
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*
  • Uterus / chemistry
  • Uterus / embryology
  • Uterus / growth & development
  • Vagina / chemistry
  • Vagina / embryology
  • Vagina / growth & development


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • HoxA protein