A spontaneous semidominant mutation (Ironside, Irn) was isolated in mice, leading to severe hindlimb paralysis following multiple deletions in cis at the HoxD locus. To understand its cellular and molecular etiology, we embarked on a comparative analysis using systematic HoxD cluster deletions, produced via targeted meiotic recombination (TAMERE). Different lines of mice were classified according to the severity of their paralyses, and subsequent analyses revealed that multiple causative factors were involved, alone or in combination, in the occurrence of this pathology. Among them are the loss of Hoxd10 function, the sum of remaining Hoxd gene activity, and the ectopic gain of function of the neighboring gene Evx2, all contributing to the mispositioning, the absence, or misidentification of specific lumbo-sacral pools of motoneurons, nerve root homeosis, and hindlimb innervation defects. These results highlight the importance of a systematic approach when studying such clustered gene families, and give insights into the function and regulation of Hox and Evx2 genes during early spinal cord development.
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