The Hox family of transcriptional regulators are homeodomain proteins that play important roles in many aspects of animal development and disease. For these proteins to perform their functions, they need to achieve the correct functional specificities in vivo. Using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as the model system, this project builds on earlier work to better understand how these transcriptional regulators function in vivo. In previous work, results were obtained suggesting that Hox proteins, in conjunction with cofactors of the Extradenticle (Exd, Pbx in vertebrates) and Homothorax (Hth;Meis in vertebrates) families, achieve DNA binding specificity by reading a sequence-dependent DNA structure using residues in their homeodomains and nearby linker regions. A second set of findings demonstrated that some Hox proteins interact with these cofactors via multiple, partially redundant interaction motifs. Third, results were obtained showing that one Hox protein in Drosophila, Ultrabithorax (Ubx), modifies appendage morphologies, in particular, appendage size, by altering the levels and mobilities of diffusible morphogens such as Decapentaplegic (Dpp). Ubx executes these modfications in part by transcriptionally regulating two genes, master of thickveins (mtv) and dally in the developing appendage. Building on these results, the aims of this project are to 1) extend and generalize the Exd-dependent Hox specificity model, 2) determine the role of multiple Exd interaction motifs that are present in some Hox proteins, and 3) determine which of the targets identified previously in the control of appendage morphology by Ubx are directly regulated by this Hox protein. The approaches for all of these aims rely heavily on using a combination of Drosophila genetic tools and in vitro protein-DNA interaction assays. X-ray crystallography, to determine the three dimensional structures of some Hox-Exd-DNA ternary complexes, will also be employed. Public Health Relevance: Although first analyzed in the context of anterior-posterior patterning, there are a wealth of critical functions in animal development from motor neuron specification to organogenesis to stem cell maintenance that are now appreciated to be controlled by Hox genes. Equally important and well studied are the roles that Hox genes and their cofactors play in human birth defects, such as limb malformations, and some cancers, such as leukemia. Thus, a mechanistic understanding of how these transcription factors regulate their target genes will impact our understanding of many aspects of developmental and disease biology.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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Development - 1 Study Section (DEV1)
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Haynes, Susan R
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
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