We have cloned and sequenced, in both mouse and human, regions of the HOX-4 complex which contain two Abd-B like genes, Hox-4.4 and Hox-4.5 (HOX4C and HOX4D in human, respectively). The high degree of conservation between the homeoprotein sequences extends to non-coding areas, which suggests that the mechanisms of regulation have been conserved. We show that the Hox-4.5/Hox-4.4 intergenic region can be broadly subdivided into three domains based on DNA conservation between rodents and primates. The presence of all these domains in association with sequences located 3' to the transcription termination site are required to mimick the spatial regulation of Hox-4.4 in transgenic mouse embryos. Several highly conserved short sequences located in this region were studied in gel retardation assays for their binding to potential regulatory factors. One such factor is detected in embryonal carcinoma cells but absent from other differentiated cell lines. This specific binding activity is down regulated upon retinoic acid treatment.
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