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The Role of Hox and Dlx Gene Clusters in Evolution and Development 

The Role of Hox and Dlx Gene Clusters in Evolution and Development
The Role of Hox and Dlx Gene Clusters in Evolution and Development

Frank H. Ruddle

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date: 07 March 2021

The genetic basis of development was significantly advanced in the early 1980s with the elucidation of the molecular structure of the homeotic genes. These genes constituted a large family characterized by a conserved 183-nucleotide (nt) domain termed the “homeobox” (Gehring, 1998). The homeobox encodes a 61-amino acid helix– turn–helix configuration that serves as a DNA-binding domain. The gene products of the homeotic genes serve as transcription factors and have been shown to regulate a variety of developmental processes, particularly in early development but at other stages in the lifecycle as well. This chapter restricts attention to members of the mammalian homeobox gene family that are organized as multigene clusters. These constitute two distinct genetic systems: the Hox and the distalless (Dlx) cluster systems. The two systems together regulate pattern formation in vertebrates over the entire rostral–caudal body axis; in addition, they contribute significantly to limb pattern formation. The structure and function of these multigene ensembles, as well as their evolutionary origins and contributions to phylogenetic diversity is reviewed as well as the special developmental genetic properties of multigene clusters and their unique role in development and evolution.

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