Genetic and Functional Modularity of Hox Activities in the Specification of Limb-Innervating Motor Neurons

Lacombe, Julie; Hanley, Olivia; Jung, Heekyung; Philippidou, Polyxeni; Surmeli, Gulsen; Dasen, Jeremy S.; Grinstein, Jonathan

A critical step in the assembly of the neural circuits that control tetrapod locomotion is the specification of the lateral motor column (LMC), a diverse motor neuron population targeting limb musculature. Hox6 paralog group genes have been implicated as key determinants of LMC fate at forelimb levels of the spinal cord, through their ability to promote expression of the LMC-restricted genes Foxp1 and Raldh2 and to suppress thoracic fates through exclusion of Hoxc9. The specific roles and mechanisms of Hox6 gene function in LMC neurons, however, are not known. We show that Hox6 genes are critical for diverse facets of LMC identity and define motifs required for their in vivo specificities. Although Hox6 genes are necessary for generating the appropriate number of LMC neurons, they are not absolutely required for the induction of forelimb LMC molecular determinants. In the absence of Hox6 activity, LMC identity appears to be preserved through a diverse array of Hox5–Hox8 paralogs, which are sufficient to reprogram thoracic motor neurons to an LMC fate. In contrast to the apparently permissive Hox inputs to early LMC gene programs, individual Hox genes, such as Hoxc6, have specific roles in promoting motor neuron pool diversity within the LMC. Dissection of motifs required for Hox in vivo specificities reveals that either cross-repressive interactions or cooperativity with Pbx cofactors are sufficient to induce LMC identity, with the N-terminus capable of promoting columnar, but not pool, identity when transferred to a heterologous homeodomain. These results indicate that Hox proteins orchestrate diverse aspects of cell fate specification through both the convergent regulation of gene programs regulated by many paralogs and also more restricted actions encoded through specificity determinants in the N-terminus.


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Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
Public Library of Science
Published Here
February 27, 2017