The Hox clusters play a crucial role in body patterning during animal development. They encode both Hox transcription factor and micro-RNA genes that are activated in a precise temporal and spatial sequence that follows their chromosomal order. These remarkable collinear properties confer functional unit status for Hox clusters. We developed the TranscriptView platform to establish high resolution transcriptional profiling and report here that transcription in the Hox clusters is far more complex than previously described in both human and mouse. Unannotated transcripts can represent up to 60% of the total transcriptional output of a cluster. In particular, we identified 14 non-coding Transcriptional Units antisense to Hox genes, 10 of which (70%) have a detectable mouse homolog. Most of these Transcriptional Units in both human and mouse present conserved sizeable sequences (>40 bp) overlapping Hox transcripts, suggesting that these Hox antisense transcripts are functional. Hox clusters also display at least seven polycistronic clusters, i.e., different genes being co-transcribed on long isoforms (up to 30 kb). This work provides a reevaluated framework for understanding Hox gene function and dys-function. Such extensive transcriptions may provide a structural explanation for Hox clustering. © 2007 Mainguy et al.
Mainguy, G., Koster, J., Woltering, J., Jansen, H., & Durtson, A. (2007). Extensive polycistronism and antisense transcription in the mammalian Hox cluster. PLoS ONE, 2(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000356