In order to identify homeobox genes which may regulate skin development and possibly mediate scarless fetal wound healing we have screened amplified human fetal skin cDNAs by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using degenerate oligonucleotide primers designed against highly conserved regions within the homeobox. We identified three non-HOX homeobox genes, MSX-1, MSX-2, and MOX-1, which were differentially expressed in fetal and adult human skin. MSX-1 and MSX-2 were detected in the epidermis, hair follicles, and fibroblasts of the developing fetal skin by in situ hybridization. In contrast, MSX-1 and MSX-2 expression in adult skin was confined to epithelially derived structures. Immunohistochemical analysis of these two genes suggested that their respective homeoproteins may be differentially regulated. While Msx-1 was detected in the cell nucleus of both fetal and adult skin; Msx-2 was detected as a diffuse cytoplasmic signal in fetal epidermis and portions of the hair follicle and dermis, but was localized to the nucleus in adult epidermis. MOX-1 was expressed in a pattern similar to MSX early in gestation but then was restricted exclusively to follicular cells in the innermost layer of the outer root sheath by 21 weeks of development. Furthermore, MOX-1 expression was completely absent in adult cutaneous tissue. These data imply that each of these homeobox genes plays a specific role in skin development.
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