National Research Centre 'Frontiers in Genetics', School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale , Lausanne, Switzerland.
During development, a properly coordinated expression of Hox genes, within their different genomic clusters is critical for patterning the body plans of many animals with a bilateral symmetry. The fascinating correspondence between the topological organization of Hox clusters and their transcriptional activation in space and time has served as a paradigm for understanding the relationships between genome structure and function. Here, we review some recent observations, which revealed highly dynamic changes in the structure of chromatin at Hox clusters, in parallel with their activation during embryonic development. We discuss the relevance of these findings for our understanding of large-scale gene regulation.
Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Sciences III, Quai Ernest-Ansermet 30, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland; Institute of Molecular Biology, Ackermannweg 4, 55116 Mainz, Germany.
The vertebrate body plan is characterized by an increased complexity relative to that of all other chordates and large-scale gene amplifications have been associated with key morphological innovations leading to their remarkable evolutionary success. Here, we use compound full Hox clusters deletions to investigate how Hox genes duplications may have contributed to the emergence of vertebrate-specific innovations. We show that the combined deletion of HoxA and HoxB leads to an atavistic heart phenotype, suggesting that the ancestral HoxA/B cluster was co-opted to help in diversifying the complex organ in vertebrates. Other phenotypic effects observed seem to illustrate the resurgence of ancestral (plesiomorphic) features. This indicates that the duplications of Hox clusters were associated with the recruitment or formation of novel cis-regulatory controls, which were key to the evolution of many vertebrate features and hence to the evolutionary radiation of this group.
National Research Centre "Frontiers in Genetics", School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Ever since the observation that collinearity, that is, the sequential activity of Hox genes based on their relative positions within their gene clusters, is conserved throughout most of the animal kingdom, the question has been raised as to what are the underlying molecular mechanisms. In recent years, technological advances have allowed to uncover changes in chromatin organization that accompany collinearity at Hox gene clusters. Here, we discuss insights in the dynamics of histone modifications and 3D organization in Drosophila and mammals and relate these findings to genomic organization of Hox gene clusters. Using these findings, we propose a framework for collinearity, based on five components: clustering, coating, compaction, compartmentalization, and contacts. We argue that these five components may be sufficient to provide a mechanistic ground for the readout of collinearity in Drosophila and vertebrates.
National Research Centre Frontiers in Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
Copy number variations are genomic structural variants that are frequently associated with human diseases. Among these copy number variations, duplications of DNA segments are often assumed to lead to dosage effects by increasing the copy number of either genes or their regulatory elements. We produced a series of large targeted duplications within a conserved gene desert upstream of the murine HoxD locus. This DNA region, syntenic to human 2q31-32, contains a range of regulatory elements required for Hoxd gene transcription, and it is often disrupted and/or reorganized in human genetic conditions collectively known as the 2q31 syndrome. Unexpectedly, one such duplication led to a transcriptional down-regulation in developing digits by impairing physical interactions between the target genes and their upstream regulatory elements, thus phenocopying the effect obtained when these enhancer sequences are deleted. These results illustrate the detrimental consequences of interrupting highly conserved regulatory landscapes and reveal a mechanism where genomic duplications lead to partial loss of function of nearby located genes.
National Research Centre "Frontiers in Genetics," Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.
Although neural substrates of mammalian female mating behavior have been described [1, 2], the association between complex courtship activity and specific underlying mechanisms remains elusive . We have isolated a mouse line that unexpectedly shows altered female social behavior with increased investigation of males and increased genital biting. We investigated adult individuals by behavioral observation and genetic and molecular neuroanatomy methods. We report exacerbated inverse pursuits and incapacitating bites directed at the genitals of stud males. This extreme deviation from wild-type female courtship segregates with a deletion of the Hoxd1 to Hoxd9 genomic region. This dominant Atypical female courtship allele (HoxD(Afc)) induces ectopic Hoxd10 gene expression in several regions in newborn forebrain transitorily and stably in a sparse subpopulation of cells in the cornu ammonis fields of adult hippocampus, which may thus lead to an abnormal modulation in the sexual behavior of mutant females. The resulting compulsive sexual solicitation behavior displayed by the most affected individuals suggests new avenues to study the genetic and molecular bases of normal and pathological mammalian affect and raises the potential involvement of the hippocampus in the control of female courtship behavior. The potential relevance to human 2q.31.1 microdeletion syndrome [4, 5] is discussed.
National Research Centre Frontiers in Genetics, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland; School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Vertebrate genes controlling critical developmental processes are often regulated by complex sets of global enhancer sequences, located at a distance, within neighboring gene deserts. Recent technological advances have made it possible to investigate the spatial organization of these 'regulatory landscapes'. The integration of such datasets with information on chromatin status, transcriptional activity and nuclear localization of these loci, as well as the effects of genetic modifications thereof, may bring a more comprehensive understanding of tissue- and/or stage-specific gene regulation in both normal and pathological contexts. Here, we review the impact of recent technological advances on our understanding of large-scale gene regulation in vertebrates, by focusing on paradigmatic gene loci.
National Research Centre "Frontiers in Genetics," School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Background: Four posterior Hoxd genes, from Hoxd13 to Hoxd10, are collectively regulated during the development of tetrapod digits. Besides the well-documented role of Hoxd13, the function of the neighboring genes has been difficult to evaluate due to the close genetic linkage and potential regulatory interferences. We used a combination of five small nested deletions in cis, involving from two to four consecutive genes of the Hoxd13 to Hoxd9 loci, in mice, to evaluate their combined functional importance. Results: We show that deletions leading to a gain of function of Hoxd13, via regulatory re-allocation, generate abnormal phenotypes, in agreement with the dominant negative role of this gene. We also show that Hoxd10, Hoxd11, and Hoxd12 all seem to play a genuine role in digit development, though less compelling than that of Hoxd13. In contrast, the nearby Hoxd9 contributed no measurable function in digits. Conclusions: We conclude that a slight and transient deregulation of Hoxd13 expression can readily affect the relative lengths of limb segments and that all posterior Hoxd genes likely contribute to the final limb morphology. We discuss the difficulty to clearly assess the functional share of individual genes within such a gene family, where closely located neighbors, coding for homologous proteins, are regulated by a unique circuitry and all contribute to shape the distal parts of our appendages. Developmental Dynamics, 2012. (c) 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The importance of Hox genes in the specification of neuronal fates in the spinal cord has long been recognized. However, the transcriptional controls underlying their collinear expression domains remain largely unknown. Here we show in mice that the correspondence between the physical order of Hoxd genes and their rostral expression boundaries, although respecting spatial collinearity, does not display a fully progressive distribution. Instead, two major anteroposterior boundaries are detected, coinciding with the functional subdivision of the spinal cord. Tiling array analyses reveal two distinct blocks of transcription, regulated independently from one another, that define the observed expression boundaries. Targeted deletions in vivo that remove the genomic fragments separating the two blocks induce ectopic expression of posterior genes. We further evaluate the independent regulatory potential and transcription profile of each gene locus by a tiling array approach using a contiguous series of transgenes combined with locus-specific deletions. Our work uncovers a bimodal type of HoxD spatial collinearity in the developing spinal cord that relies on two separate 'enhancer mini-hubs' to ensure correct Hoxd gene expression levels while maintaining their appropriate anteroposterior boundaries.
National Center of Competence in Research, Frontiers in Genetics, Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.
The evolution of vertebrate genomes was accompanied by an astounding increase in the complexity of their regulatory modalities. Genetic redundancy resulting from large-scale genome duplications at the base of the chordate tree was repeatedly exploited by the functional redeployment of paralogous genes via innovations in their regulatory circuits. As a paradigm of such regulatory evolution, we have extensively studied those control mechanisms at work in-cis over vertebrate Hox gene clusters. Here, we review the portfolio of genetic strategies that have been developed to tackle the intricate relationship between genomic topography and the transcriptional activities in this gene family, and we describe some of the mechanistic insights we gained by using the HoxD cluster as an example. We discuss the high heuristic value of this system in our general understanding of how changes in transcriptional regulation can diversify gene function and thereby fuel morphological evolution.
National Research Centre, Frontiers in Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, Switzerland.
The evolution of digits was an essential step in the success of tetrapods. Among the key players, Hoxd genes are coordinately regulated in developing digits, where they help organize growth and patterns. We identified the distal regulatory sites associated with these genes by probing the three-dimensional architecture of this regulatory unit in developing limbs. This approach, combined with in vivo deletions of distinct regulatory regions, revealed that the active part of the gene cluster contacts several enhancer-like sequences. These elements are dispersed throughout the nearby gene desert, and each contributes either quantitatively or qualitatively to Hox gene transcription in presumptive digits. We propose that this genetic system, which we call a "regulatory archipelago," provides an inherent flexibility that may partly underlie the diversity in number and morphology of digits across tetrapods, as well as their resilience to drastic variations. PAPERFLICK:
National Research Centre Frontiers in Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
The spatial and temporal control of Hox gene transcription is essential for patterning the vertebrate body axis. Although this process involves changes in histone posttranslational modifications, the existence of particular three-dimensional (3D) architectures remained to be assessed in vivo. Using high-resolution chromatin conformation capture methodology, we examined the spatial configuration of Hox clusters in embryonic mouse tissues where different Hox genes are active. When the cluster is transcriptionally inactive, Hox genes associate into a single 3D structure delimited from flanking regions. Once transcription starts, Hox clusters switch to a bimodal 3D organization where newly activated genes progressively cluster into a transcriptionally active compartment. This transition in spatial configurations coincides with the dynamics of chromatin marks, which label the progression of the gene clusters from a negative to a positive transcription status. This spatial compartmentalization may be key to process the colinear activation of these compact gene clusters.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: The development of vertebrate limbs has been a traditional system to study fundamental processes at work during ontogenesis, such as the establishment of spatial cellular coordinates, the effect of diffusible morphogenetic molecules or the translation between gene activity and morphogenesis. In addition, limbs are amongst the first targets of malformations in human and they display a huge realm of evolutionary variations within tetrapods, which make them a paradigm to study the regulatory genome. RESULTS: As a reference resource for future biochemical and genetic analyses, we used genome-wide tiling arrays to establish the transcriptomes of mouse limb buds at three different stages, during which major developmental events take place. We compare the three time-points and discuss some aspects of these datasets, for instance related to transcriptome dynamics or to the potential association between active genes and the distribution of intergenic transcriptional activity. CONCLUSIONS: These datasets provide a valuable resource, either for research projects involving gene expression and regulation in developing mouse limbs, or as examples of tissue-specific, genome-wide transcriptional activities.