Background. The Hox family of homeodomain transcription factors comprises pivotal regulators of cell specification and identity during animal development. However, despite their well-defined roles in the establishment of anteroposterior pattern and considerable research into their mechanism of action, relatively few target genes have been identified in the downstream regulatory network. We have sought to investigate this issue, focussing on the developing hindbrain and the cranial motor neurons that arise from this region. The reiterated anteroposterior compartments of the developing hindbrain (rhombomeres (r)) are normally patterned by the combinatorial action of distinct Hox genes. Alteration in the normal pattern of Hox cues in this region results in a transformation of cellular identity to match the remaining Hox profile, similar to that observed in Drosophila homeotic transformations. Results. To define the repertoire of genes regulated in each rhombomere, we have analysed the transcriptome of each rhombomere from wild-type mouse embryos and not those where pattern is perturbed by gain or loss of Hox gene function. Using microarray and bioinformatic methodologies in conjunction with other confirmatory techniques, we report here a detailed and comprehensive set of potential Hox target genes in r2, r3, r4 and r5. We have demonstrated that the data produced are both fully reflective and predictive of rhombomere identity and, thus, may represent some the of Hox targets. These data have been interrogated to generate a list of candidate genes whose function may contribute to the generation of neuronal subtypes characteristic of each rhombomere. Interestingly, the data can also be classified into genetic motifs that are predicted by the specific combinations of Hox genes and other regulators of hindbrain anteroposterior identity. The sets of genes described in each or combinations of rhombomeres span a wide functional range and suggest that the Hox genes, as well as other regulatory inputs, exert their influence across the full spectrum of molecular machinery. Conclusion. We have performed a systematic survey of the transcriptional status of individual segments of the developing mouse hindbrain and identified hundreds of previously undescribed genes expressed in this region. The functional range of the potential candidate effectors or upstream modulators of Hox activity suggest multiple unexplored mechanisms. In particular, we present evidence of a potential new retinoic acid signalling system in ventral r4 and propose a model for the refinement of identity in this region. Furthermore, the rhombomeres demonstrate a molecular relationship to each other that is consistent with known observations about neurogenesis in the hindbrain. These findings give the first genome-wide insight into the complexity of gene expression during patterning of the developing hindbrain.
Chambers, D., Wilson, L. J., Alfonsi, F., Hunter, E., Saxena, U., Blanc, E., & Lumsden, A. (2009). Rhombomere-specific analysis reveals the repertoire of genetic cues expressed across the developing hindbrain. Neural Development, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1749-8104-4-6