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Coupling the roles of Hox genes to regulatory networks patterning cranial neural crest

Parker, Hugo J., Pushel, Irina, Krumlauf, Robb
Developmental biology 2018 v.444 pp. S67
brain, congenital abnormalities, embryogenesis, evolution, gene expression, gene regulatory networks, head, homeotic genes, neural crest, vertebrates
The neural crest is a transient population of cells that forms within the developing central nervous system and migrates away to generate a wide range of derivatives throughout the body during vertebrate embryogenesis. These cells are of evolutionary and clinical interest, constituting a key defining trait in the evolution of vertebrates and alterations in their development are implicated in a high proportion of birth defects and craniofacial abnormalities. In the hindbrain and the adjacent cranial neural crest cells (cNCCs), nested domains of Hox gene expression provide a combinatorial’Hox-code’ for specifying regional properties in the developing head. Hox genes have been shown to play important roles at multiple stages in cNCC development, including specification, migration, and differentiation. However, relatively little is known about the underlying gene-regulatory mechanisms involved, both upstream and downstream of Hox genes. Furthermore, it is still an open question as to how the genes of the neural crest GRN are linked to Hox-dependent pathways. In this review, we describe Hox gene expression, function and regulation in cNCCs with a view to integrating these genes within the emerging gene regulatory network for cNCC development. We highlight early roles for Hox1 genes in cNCC specification, proposing that this may be achieved, in part, by regulation of the balance between pluripotency and differentiation in precursor cells within the neuro-epithelium. We then describe what is known about the regulation of Hox gene expression in cNCCs and discuss this from the perspective of early vertebrate evolution.