Hox genes encode transcription factors that play a central role in the specification of regional identities along the anterior to posterior body axis. In the developing mouse embryo, Hox genes from all four genomic clusters are involved in range of developmental processes, including the patterning of skeletal structures and the formation of several organs. However, the functional redundancy observed either between paralogous genes, or among neighboring genes from the same cluster, has hampered functional analyses, in particular when synergistic, cluster-specific functions are considered. Here, we report that mutant mice lacking the entire HoxA cluster in mesodermal lineages display the expected spectrum of postnatal respiratory, cardiac and urogenital defects, previously reported for single gene mutations. Likewise, mild phenotypes are observed in both appendicular and axial skeleton. However, a striking effect was uncovered in the hematopoietic system, much stronger than that seen for Hoxa9 inactivation alone, which involves stem cells (HSCs) as well as the erythroid lineage, indicating that several Hoxa genes are necessary for normal hematopoiesis to occur. Finally, the combined deletions of Hoxa and Hoxd genes reveal abnormalities in axial elongation as well as skin morphogenesis that are likely the results of defects in epithelial-mesenchymal interactions.
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