Role of HOX genes in stem cell differentiation and cancer

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HOX genes encode an evolutionarily conserved set of transcription factors that control how the phenotype of an organism becomes organized during development based on its genetic makeup. For example, in bilaterian-type animals, HOX genes are organized in gene clusters that encode anatomic segment identity, that is, whether the embryo will form with bilateral symmetry with a head (anterior), tail (posterior), back (dorsal), and belly (ventral). Although HOX genes are known to regulate stem cell (SC) differentiation and HOX genes are dysregulated in cancer, the mechanisms by which dysregulation of HOX genes in SCs causes cancer development is not fully understood. Therefore, the purpose of this manuscript was (i) to review the role of HOX genes in SC differentiation, particularly in embryonic, adult tissue-specific, and induced pluripotent SC, and (ii) to investigate how dysregulated HOX genes in SCs are responsible for the development of colorectal cancer (CRC) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We analyzed HOX gene expression in CRC and AML using information from The Cancer Genome Atlas study. Finally, we reviewed the literature on HOX genes and related therapeutics that might help us understand ways to develop SC-specific therapies that target aberrant HOX gene expression that contributes to cancer development.




Bhatlekar, S., Fields, J. Z., & Boman, B. M. (2018). Role of HOX genes in stem cell differentiation and cancer. Stem Cells International. Hindawi Limited.

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