Extreme conservation of noncoding DNA near HoxD complex of vertebrates
Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India
BMC Genomics 2004, 5:75 doi:10.1186/1471-2164-5-75Published: 6 October 2004
Homeotic gene complexes determine the anterior-posterior body axis in animals. The expression pattern and function of hox genes along this axis is colinear with the order in which they are organized in the complex. This 'chromosomal organization and functional correspondence' is conserved in all bilaterians investigated. Genomic sequences covering the HoxD complex from several vertebrate species are now available. This offers a comparative genomics approach to identify conserved regions linked to this complex. Although the molecular basis of 'colinearity' of Hox complexes is not yet understood, it is possible that there are control elements within or in the proximity of these complexes that establish and maintain the expression patterns of hox genes in a coordinated fashion.
We have compared DNA sequence flanking the HoxD complex of several primate, rodent and fish species. This analysis revealed an unprecedented conservation of non-coding DNA sequences adjacent to the HoxD complex from fish to human. Stretches of hundreds of base pairs in a 7 kb region, upstream of HoxD complex, show 100% conservation across the vertebrate species. Using PCR primers from the human sequence, these conserved regions could be amplified from other vertebrate species, including other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Our analysis of these sequences also indicates that starting from the conserved core regions, more sequences have been added on and maintained during evolution from fish to human.
Such a high degree of conservation in the core regions of this 7 kb DNA, where no variation occurred during ~500 million years of evolution, suggests critical function for these sequences. We suggest that such sequences are likely to provide molecular handle to gain insight into the evolution and mechanism of regulation of associated gene complexes.