The molecular mechanisms that govern bone and joint formation are complex, involving an integrated network of signaling pathways and gene regulators. We investigated the role of Hox genes, which are known to specify individual segments of the skeleton, in the formation of autopod limb bones (i.e., the hands and feet) using the mouse mutant synpolydactyly homolog (spdh), which encodes a polyalanine expansion in Hoxd13. We found that no cortical bone was formed in the autopod in spdh/spdh mice; instead, these bones underwent trabecular ossification after birth. Spdh/spdh metacarpals acquired an ovoid shape and developed ectopic joints, indicating a loss of long bone characteristics and thus a transformation of metacarpals into carpal bones. The perichondrium of spdh/spdh mice showed abnormal morphology and decreased expression of Runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2), which was identified as a direct Hoxd13 transcriptional target. Hoxd11–/–Hoxd12–/–Hoxd13–/– triple-knockout mice and Hoxd13–/–Hoxa13+/– mice exhibited similar but less severe defects, suggesting that these Hox genes have similar and complementary functions and that the spdh allele acts as a dominant negative. This effect was shown to be due to sequestration of other polyalanine-containing transcription factors by the mutant Hoxd13 in the cytoplasm, leading to their degradation. These data indicate that Hox genes not only regulate patterning but also directly influence bone formation and the ossification pattern of bones, in part via Runx2.
Pablo Villavicencio-Lorini, Pia Kuss, Julia Friedrich, Julia Haupt, Muhammed Farooq, Seval Türkmen, Denis Duboule, Jochen Hecht, Stefan Mundlos