An amphioxus homeobox gene: sequence conservation, spatial expression during development and insights into vertebrate evolution.
One of the most remarkable recent findings in developmental biology has been the colinear and homologous relationships shared between the Drosophila HOM-C and vertebrate Hox homeobox gene complexes. These relationships pose the question of the functional significance of colinearity and its molecular basis. While there was much initial resistance to the validity of this comparison, it now appears the Hox/HOM homology reflects a broad degree of evolutionary conservation which has reawakened interest in comparative embryology and evolution. The evolutionary conservation of protein motifs in many gene families (including those for growth factors, secreted and membrane bound signalling factors, adhesion molecules, cytoplasmic receptor kinases, nuclear receptors and transcription factors) has lead to speculation on the extent to which these homology relationships represent common developmental processes and underlying molecular mechanisms. Structural identifies in a protein may indicate the biochemical/molecular function that a protein plays in cellular and developmental processes, without reflecting a conserved role in a cascade of developmental events. However, the analysis of genes encoding transcription factors has provided evidence suggesting that there are gene complexes in arthropods and vertebrates which are true homologues and which may share common roles in the specification of regional identity along embryonic A-P axis. These genes comprise the Hox/HOM-C homeotic complexes. This review will detail some of the evidence for this proposed relationship and will speculate on the functional implications.