The mammalian Hox complex is divided into four linkage groups containing 13 sets of paralogous genes. These paralogous genes have retained functional redundancy during evolution. For this reason, loss of only one or two Hox genes within a paralogous group often results in incompletely penetrant phenotypes which are difficult to interpret by molecular analysis. For example, mice individually mutant for Hoxa11 or Hoxd11 show no discernible kidney abnormalities. Hoxa11/Hoxd11 double mutants, however, demonstrate hypoplasia of the kidneys. As described in this study, removal of the last Hox11 paralogous member, Hoxc11, results in the complete loss of metanephric kidney induction. In these triple mutants, the metanephric blastema condenses, and expression of early patterning genes, Pax2 and Wt1, is unperturbed. Eya1 expression is also intact. Six2 expression, however, is absent, as is expression of the inducing growth factor, Gdnf. In the absence of Gdnf, ureteric bud formation is not initiated. Molecular analysis of this phenotype demonstrates that Hox11 control of early metanephric induction is accomplished by the interaction of Hox11 genes with the pax-eya-six regulatory cascade, a pathway that may be used by Hox genes more generally for the induction of multiple structures along the anteroposterior axis.
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