Development 140, 2942-2952 (2013) doi:10.1242/dev.092569
© 2013. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
Recombineering-based dissection of flanking and paralogous
Hox gene functions in mouse reproductive tracts
Hox genes are key regulators of anterior-to-posterior patterning in the
developing embryo. They are organized in four clusters (HoxA,B,C,D)
in mammals and are expressed in a spatiotemporal order in the embryo
that matches their 3?-to-5? arrangement on the chromosomes.
The study of the 39 mammalian Hox genes is greatly confounded
by their overlapping functions. Paralogous genes on different Hox
clusters are evolutionarily derived from one ancestral Hox gene.
They display similar expression patterns during development, and
at least in some cases their coding sequences are functionally
interchangeable (Greer et al., 2000). As a result, they show a high
degree of functional redundancy. For example, mutation of either
Hoxa11or Hoxd11results in relatively minor developmental defects
(Small and Potter, 1993; Davis and Capecchi, 1994), whereas
mutation of both confers dramatic patterning defects in kidneys and
forelimbs (Davis et al., 1995).
There is also evidence for functional redundancy of flanking
Hox genes. This is particularly relevant to the AbdB class of genes
at the 5? end of the clusters, where a single ancestral gene has
given rise to five Hox paralogous groups (Hox9-13). In the
developing kidney (Patterson and Potter, 2004), skeleton (Haack
and Gruss, 1993) and uterus (Gendron et al., 1997; Ma et al.,
1998), flanking Hox genes often show similar expression patterns.
In addition, homeobox swap experiments show that the
homeoboxes of flanking HoxA genes can be functionally
equivalent, whereas those of Hox genes that are further separated
are functionally distinct (Zhao and Potter, 2002).
Functional redundancy of flanking Hox genes was also
demonstrated by nonallelic noncomplementation. For example,
malformations, even though each single heterozygote shows no
phenotype (Rancourt et al., 1995). Mice that are transheterozygous for
Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 also display synergistic defects in their limbs
and reproductive tracts (Branford et al., 2000). These experiments,
however, just begin to define flanking Hox gene redundancies. A
preferred genetic approach is to mutate multiple flanking Hox genes
to more completely remove overlapping function.
Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 are crucial for the appropriate development
of both the male and female reproductive tracts. Morphological
differentiation of the female reproductive tract from the Mullerian
ducts takes place from embryonic day (E) 15 to postnatal day 14,
concurrent with expression of the AbdB HoxA genes (Taylor et al.,
1997). Hoxa9 is expressed strongly in developing oviducts, with
weaker expression in the uterus. Both Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 show
high expression in the uterus, with slight differences in their anterior
expression boundaries. Development of the male reproductive tract
from the Wolffian duct closely parallels the process in the female
(Joseph et al., 2009). At E17 Hoxa10is strongly expressed in the vas
deferens, with an anterior boundary reaching to the future junction
with the caudal epididymis (Podlasek et al., 1999). Previous studies
with Hoxa10−/−and Hoxa11−/−mice have shown partial anterior
homeotic transformations of the uterus and vas deferens that are
similar but not identical. The difference in phenotypes is most
apparent in the female, with the top 25% of the Hoxa10−/−uterus
displaying an anteriorization to a more oviduct-like structure
(Benson et al., 1996), whereas the entire Hoxa11−/−uterus is thinner
and smaller than in wild type (WT), resembling the oviduct
(Gendron et al., 1997).
Hoxd9, Hoxd10and Hoxd11are also expressed in the developing
male and female reproductive tracts (Dollé et al., 1991), although
less well characterized. In studies of mice individually mutant for
show distinct skeletal
1Division of Developmental Biology, 2Division of Immunobiology, 3Division of
Reproductive Sciences, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH
*These authors contributed equally to this work
‡Author for correspondence (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Accepted 27 April 2013
Hox genes are key regulators of development. In mammals, the study of these genes is greatly confounded by their large number,
overlapping functions and interspersed shared enhancers. Here, we describe the use of a novel recombineering strategy to introduce
simultaneous frameshift mutations into the flanking Hoxa9, Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 genes, as well as their paralogs on the HoxD cluster.
The resulting Hoxa9,10,11 mutant mice displayed dramatic synergistic homeotic transformations of the reproductive tracts, with the
uterus anteriorized towards oviduct and the vas deferens anteriorized towards epididymis. The Hoxa9,10,11 mutant mice also provided
a genetic setting that allowed the discovery of Hoxd9,10,11 redundant reproductive tract patterning function. Both shared and
distinct Hox functions were defined. Hoxd9,10,11 play a crucial role in the regulation of uterine immune function. Non-coding non-
polyadenylated RNAs were among the key Hox targets, with dramatic downregulation in mutants. We observed Hox cross-regulation
of transcription and splicing. In addition, we observed a surprising anti-dogmatic apparent posteriorization of the uterine epithelium.
In caudal regions of the uterus, the normal simple columnar epithelium flanking the lumen was replaced by a pseudostratified
transitional epithelium, normally found near the more posterior cervix. These results identify novel molecular functions of Hox genes
in the development of the male and female reproductive tracts.
KEY WORDS: Hox genes, Homeotic transformations, Recombineering, Reproductive tracts, Mouse
Anna M. Raines1,*, Mike Adam1,*, Bliss Magella1, Sara E. Meyer2, H. Leighton Grimes2, Sudhansu K. Dey3and
S. Steven Potter1,‡
Hox reproductive tract functions
Hoxd9, Hoxd10 or Hoxd11, anatomical transformations of
reproductive tracts have not been reported. Hoxd9−/−mice are fertile
and give birth to normal sized litters (Fromental-Ramain et al.,
1996). Interestingly, studies of Hoxd10 and Hoxd11 mutants reveal
normal fertility in females but subfertility in males that is associated
with an inability to produce a vaginal plug, which is likely to result
from hindlimb locomotor defects (Carpenter et al., 1997; Davis and
In this report, we describe the use of recombineering to study
Hox gene functional redundancies in the reproductive tracts of male
and female mice. With a modified recombineering strategy we were
able to generate BAC targeting constructs over 100 kb in length that
facilitated the simultaneous frameshift mutation of multiple flanking
Hox genes, while leaving regional enhancers intact. We generated
mice with flanking mutations in Hoxa9, Hoxa10 and Hoxa11
(Hoxa9,10,11) and the paralogous genes Hoxd9, Hoxd10 and
Hoxd11 (Hoxd9,10,11). The Hoxa9,10,11 mutant mice provided a
genetic setting that revealed previously undetected redundant
fertility and reproductive tract patterning functions for Hoxd9,10,11.
Dramatic anterior homeotic transformations of uterus and vas
deferens were observed. Surprisingly, however, the epithelial lining
of the mutant uterus underwent a conspicuous change in gene
expression and structure that caused it to resemble that of the more
posterior vagina. In addition, the results demonstrate that these Hox
genes play an essential role in the regulation of the uterine immune
system and that small non-coding RNAs are among their key
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Generation of Hox9,10,11 mutant mice
BAC clones used were RP23-20F21 (HoxA cluster) and RP23-101K1
(HoxD cluster) from CHORI BACPAC Resources (http://bacpac.chori.org/
home.htm). Plasmid constructs for recombineering of BACs were made by
subcloning PCR-amplified DNA into a modified pl451 (Pentao et al., 2003)
(supplementary material Table S1), with kan/neo flanked by ‘once only’
Lox66 and Lox71. Sequences were chosen so as to introduce a small
deletion/frameshift near the beginning of the first exon. Recombineering
modification of BACs was carried out as previously described (Warming et
al., 2005) (precise modifications are listed in supplementary material Table
The modified BACs were isolated using NucleoBond PC 500 (Clontech),
linearized using PI-SCEI (New England BioLabs), and electroporated into
embryonic stem cells (ESCs) (SE2 cells, strain 129 made in the S.S.P. lab.).
ESC colonies surviving G418 selection were screened by quantitative PCR
(qPCR) to count the number of remaining wild-type alleles, with proper
recombinations leaving only one. A primer-probe set (Integrated DNA
Technologies) was designed in which the binding sequence of the signaling
probe was homologous to the deleted region of the Hox gene. ESCs were then
further tested by PCR to check that each Hox gene was properly targeted
(primer sequences are listed in supplementary material Table S1). Mice were
maintained on a mixed 129/CD1 background (CD1 from Charles River).
Gross analysis, histology and immunohistochemistry
Males and diestrus females at 3-7 months of age were used for gross
analysis and histology. Tissue sections from adult WT and Hox mutant mice
were processed onto the same slide for immunofluorescence (Hirota et al.,
2010). Antibodies used for immunofluorescent staining were specific to
SMAA (1:500; LMAB-1A4, Seven Hills Bioreagents), OVGP1 (1:250; sc-
48754, Santa Cruz Biotechnology), RPS12 (1:250; 16490-1-AP,
Proteintech) and KRT5 (1:500; gift from Geraldine Guasch, Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital Medical Center).
Whole-mount in situ hybridization
Whole-mount in situ hybridization for Hoxd9,10,11 was performed as
described (Benson et al., 1996). Primer sequences are listed in
supplementary material Table S1.
Gene expression and data analysis
RNA was isolated from male and diestrus female (n=3/genotype)
reproductive tracts using the RNeasy kit (Qiagen). Total RNA (1 μg) was
amplified using the WT Expression Kit (Ambion) and hybridized to
Affymetrix GeneChip Mouse Gene 1.0 ST arrays; analysis was performed
using GeneSpring GX (Agilent Technologies). Data were deposited in the
GEO database with accession number GSE41993. Hierarchical clustering
was performed using the Chebyshev distance metric.
RNA-Seq using Illumina TruSeq was performed on pooled total RNA
(1.5 μg) from the same three samples/genotype that were analyzed by
microarray. Data were analyzed in Avadis NGS as previously described
(Brunskill and Potter, 2012) and deposited in the GEO database with
accession number GSE42339.
Uterine horns were dissected from WT and Hoxd9,10,11−/−diestrus mice,
minced into small pieces, placed in 3 ml HBSS (Life Technologies), 0.83
Wünsch units of Liberase TM (Roche) was added and the samples incubated
at 37°C for 45 minutes with intermittent pipetting. Samples were
centrifuged at 1200 rpm (250 g) for 5 minutes, washed twice with 2 ml
5 mM EDTA in PBS, strained through a 70 μm cell strainer, pelleted and
resuspended in FACS buffer (5% FBS, 0.1% NaN3). Live cells present in the
resulting cell suspensions were counted on a hemocytometer using a 1:2
dilution with Trypan Blue, and similar numbers of cells (<106) from WT and
mutant uteri were stained with fluorochrome-conjugated antibodies (1:50)
for myeloid-lineage markers: CD45 (PTPRC), FITC (553079, BD
Biosciences); GR1 (LY6G), PE-Cy7 (552985, BD Biosciences); F4/80
(EMR1), PE (122616, BioLegend); CD11b (ITGAM), PacBlue (101224,
BioLegend). Single-stained compensation controls were prepared using a
CD1 mouse uterus.
Samples were analyzed on an LSRII cytometer (BD Biosciences). Single-
stained controls prepared from uterine tissue were used to calculate
compensation for spectral overlap of the fluorochromes used. We collected
100,000-200,000 events from each sample that fell in the initial gating on
side scatter (SSC) versus forward scatter (FSC) to include cells that are
likely to be alive. Using FlowJo software (TreeStar) we gated on live, single
cells using SSC versus FSC, then on the CD45+population. Counts for the
CD45+, CD11b+, F4/80+and GR1+cell populations were obtained and
expressed as a percentage of the live or CD45+populations. Total CD45+
cell counts in WT and Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri were determined by multiplying
the percentage of CD45+cells by the total number of cells harvested from
the uteri as determined by Trypan exclusion using a hemocytometer.
Similarly, total CD11b+cell counts were determined by multiplying the
percentage of CD45+CD11b+cells by the total CD45+cell count.
Recombineering mutations of Hoxa9,10,11 and
To better understand the overlapping functions of flanking Hox genes
it is necessary to create mice in which sets of flanking Hox genes
have been mutated. One approach is to use Cre-Lox technology to
generate deletions that encompass multiple Hox genes. This strategy,
however, also removes interspersed shared enhancers, thereby
disrupting the expression patterns of the remaining Hox genes
(Zákány et al., 2004). It is therefore difficult to attribute the resulting
phenotype to the loss or misexpression of particular Hox genes. A
preferred approach would be to introduce frameshift mutations into
multiple flanking Hox genes. We reasoned that recombineering
methods could be adapted to achieve this objective.
We modified recombineering to allow the simultaneous targeting
of nearby genes. The BAC targeting constructs were engineered to
carry multiple frameshift mutations (Fig. 1A). A DNA segment with
a kan/neo selectable marker flanked by two blocks of sequence
homology to the Hox gene of interest was recombined into the first
exon and, following identification of cells carrying the desired
modification, the marker was removed with inducible Cre. We used
the ‘once only’ LoxP sequences, Lox66 and Lox71. Each carries
one mutation, and the single remaining LoxP following
recombination is an inactive double mutant that does not interfere
with subsequent serial modifications of additional Hox genes. The
resulting BAC targeting constructs were used to produce mice with
mutations in Hoxa9,10,11, the three genes of the HoxA cluster with
strong uterus expression, as well as in their paralogs on the HoxD
cluster, Hoxd9,10,11. The remaining kan/neo sequences were
removed by breeding to mice with germ line Cre expression (EIIa-
cre from Jackson Labs).
Hoxd9,10,11 are expressed in developing and
adult reproductive tracts
The expression of Hoxd9,10,11in the developing reproductive tracts
has not been defined in detail (Dollé et al., 1991). We found that
Hoxd9,10,11are expressed during development (Fig. 1B) and in the
adult uterus (supplementary material Fig. S1) with expression
patterns very similar to Hoxa9,10,11 (Ma et al., 1998; Satokata et
al., 1995), placing these genes in the right place and time to impact
patterning and function of the reproductive tract.
Hoxa9,10,11 and Hoxd9,10,11 mutants are viable
Mice homozygous mutant for Hoxa9,10,11 or Hoxd9,10,11, as well
as mice deficient for nine alleles Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−or
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−, were viable and produced in the
predicted Mendelian ratios. Hoxa11−/−d11−/−mice usually suffer
perinatal death due to severely hypoplastic kidneys (Davis et al.,
1995). As expected, therefore, Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11−/−mice died
shortly after birth.
Hoxa9,10,11−/−mutants are infertile
Both male and female Hoxa9,10,11−/−mice were infertile,
confirming and extending previous studies with Hoxa10−/−and
Hoxa11−/−mutants (Gendron et al., 1997; Satokata et al., 1995).
Male Hoxa9,10,11−/−mice showed completely penetrant bilateral
cryptorchidism, with intra-abdominal testes located just below the
inferior pole of the kidney. Cryptorchidism results in defective
spermatogenesis (supplementary material Fig. S2). Studies of
Development 140 (14)
cryptorchidism linked to abnormal development of the
gubernaculum, but with incomplete penetrance and variable
location of undescended testes (Lewis et al., 2003; Satokata et al.,
1995; Rijli et al., 1995). As expected, both male and female
Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−mice were infertile.
or Hoxa11-deficient males previously reported
Hoxd9,10,11−/−mice are subfertile
We also observed that Hoxd9,10,11−/−male mice were infertile and
female mice showed evidence of subfertility. Five matings of
Hoxd9,10,11−/−males with WT females failed to produce vaginal
plugs over 6 months, consistent with previous reports of copulation
defects in Hoxd10mutants and subfertility of Hoxd11mutants, even
though male reproductive tracts appear normal in both (Favier et
al., 1995; Carpenter et al., 1997). In crosses between Hoxd9,10,11−/−
females and WT males, the litters were somewhat smaller (8.7±1.3
pups/litter, average ± s.e.m.) than for either Hoxd9,10,11+/−
(11.0±1.0 pups/litter) or WT (11.5±1.8 pups/litter) females. In
addition, litters born to Hoxd9,10,11−/−mothers frequently died
postnatally with no milk spots or were severely runted (5/12
We found more striking evidence for Hoxd9,10,11 function in
female fertility in compound Hox mutants. About 26% (13/49) of
double heterozygous (Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11+/−) females with a
vaginal plug did not produce pups. Furthermore, females that did
become pregnant produced small litters (average of 5.3 pups/
litter, n=13) compared with Hoxa9,10,11+/−(average 13 pups/
litter, n=4) and Hoxd9,10,11+/−(average 11 pups/litter, n=8)
single heterozygous mice.
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−females (n=4) with WT males failed to
produce any pups despite the presence of vaginal plugs.
Importantly, matings of
Hoxd9,10,11 function in anterior-posterior
patterning of the female reproductive tract
Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 are known to play a role in developmental
patterning of the reproductive tracts (Benson et al., 1996; Gendron
et al., 1997), but Hoxd9,10,11 have not previously been implicated
in this process. We analyzed Hoxa9,10,11−/−, Hoxd9,10,11−/−and
Fig. 1. Recombineering strategy and Hoxd9,10,11
expression. (A) BAC constructs for simultaneous targeting of
multiple genes. The top line shows recombineering insertion
of kan/neo into the first exon of the mouse Hoxa9 gene.
Following Cre recombination of LoxP sequences (arrows) to
delete kan/neo, the procedure is repeated to modify additional
Hox genes. See text for details. (B) In situ hybridizations define
the boundaries of Hoxd9,10,11 expression in E17.5 developing
uteri. The anterior expression limit for Hoxd9 was very near the
boundary (arrow) between uterus (UT) and oviduct (OV).
Hoxd10 and Hoxd11 showed slightly more posterior expression
compound Hox mutant uteri, reasoning that the presence of
Hoxa9,10,11 in previous studies masked the patterning function of
Hoxa9,10,11−/−mice displayed severe anterior homeotic
transformations of reproductive structures; uteri were extremely thin
along their entire length, resembling oviducts (Fig. 2B). The
uterotubal junction, which connects the uterus and oviduct, was
poorly defined, elongated and shifted posteriorly compared with
WT (Fig. 2A). Histological analysis of Hoxa9,10,11−/−uteri showed
a significant reduction of both myometrial and stromal layers and an
increase in luminal branching (Fig. 2H), more similar to WT oviduct
(Fig. 2J) than WT uterus (Fig. 2G). Immunostaining for α-smooth
muscle actin (SMAA) showed disruption of a thinned uterine
muscle layer (Fig. 2N) compared with WT (Fig. 2M). In addition,
the mutant uterus displayed a dramatic reduction in uterine gland
tissue compared with WT. These changes reflect an apparent
transformation of the mutant uterus to a more oviduct-like structure.
The surprising strength of the phenotype is likely to be the result of
overlapping functions of the flanking Hoxa9,10,11 genes. By
contrast, the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus appeared grossly normal without
any obvious anteriorization (Fig. 2C). The histology and SMAA
staining patterns of Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri (Fig. 2I,O) were
indistinguishable from those of WT (Fig. 2G,M). However, deletion
of one set of Hoxd9,10,11 alleles from the Hoxa9,10,11
homozygous mutant (Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−) significantly
exacerbated the anteriorization of the uterus observed in
Hoxa9,10,11−/−mice (Fig. 2E). These uteri were extremely thin and
coiled for nearly half their length. Histological analysis showed that
Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−uteri closely resembled oviductal
architecture, with dramatically decreased diameter, a branched
luminal epithelium and severely diminished stromal and myometrial
layers (Fig. 2K).
There was also evidence of functional redundancy of patterning
for HoxA and HoxD paralogs in Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−mice.
Whereas Hoxa9,10,11+/−and Hoxd9,10,11−/−mutants showed uteri
similar to WT, Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−compound mutants
exhibited a thin uterus with occasional slight coiling at the anterior
end (Fig. 2F), thinner myometrial and stromal layers, as well as a
more branched luminal epithelium (Fig. 2L). Even
Hox reproductive tract functions
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11+/−uteri often displayed an elongated
uterotubal junction (Fig. 2D). These results demonstrate that
Hoxd9,10,11 function in female reproductive tract patterning.
Homeotic transformations in male mutant
reproductive tracts parallel uterine changes
In Hoxa9,10,11−/−males the vas deferens showed a partial anterior
homeotic transformation towards an epididymis. Gross and
histological analyses of the reproductive tract revealed elongation of
the junction between the caudal epididymis and vas deferens, with
posterior shifting and coiling of the vas deferens near the epididymal
junction (Fig. 3A,B). The mutant vas deferens showed dramatically
reduced muscle and stromal layers (Fig. 3G,H). Immunostaining
for SMAA showed a decrease in the thickness, as well as a
disorganization, of the muscle layer (Fig. 3M,N).
By contrast, the Hoxd9,10,11−/−vas deferens appeared grossly
normal, but with occasional minor coiling near the epididymal
junction (Fig. 3C). Histological analysis and SMAA
immunostaining showed no apparent abnormalities (Fig. 3I,O)
compared with WT (Fig. 3G,M). However, removal of one set of
Hoxd9,10,11 alleles from Hoxa9,10,11 homozygous mutants
(Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−) resulted in a significant enhancement of
the Hoxa9,10,11−/−vas deferens anteriorization (Fig. 3E), with
extreme coiling from the epididymal junction extending posterior
approximately one-third of its length. Histology and SMAA staining
(Fig. 3K; supplementary material Fig. S2) revealed a vas deferens
structure similar to the WT caudal epididymis (Fig. 3J;
supplementary material Fig. S2), with thinner muscle and stromal
layers. Removal of one set of Hoxa9,10,11 alleles from
Hoxd9,10,11−/−(Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−) gave rise to a vas
deferens that typically displayed coiling of the proximal end along
with a smaller caudal epididymis (Fig. 3F). These mice rarely
presented with unilateral cryptorchidism and more commonly with
canalicular testes located just above the scrotum. Histology and
SMAA staining of the vas deferens showed a reduced muscle layer,
particularly for the anterior portion (Fig. 3L; supplementary material
Fig. S2). Even the Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11+/−double heterozygotes
usually showed some gross coiling of the anterior vas deferens
(Fig. 3D). These compound mutant phenotypes further demonstrate
Fig. 2. Anterior homeotic transformation in Hoxa9,10,11 mutant uteri is exacerbated by removal of one set of Hoxd9,10,11 alleles. (A-F) Adult
mouse ovaries, oviduct and uteri. Arrow or brackets indicate the location of the uterotubal junction. Coiling of the aaDd uterus illustrates gross
anteriorization toward oviduct. Note that ovaries are not present in B, E and F. (G-L) Hematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) staining of uteri (G-I,K,L) and oviducts
(J) (original magnification 4×). (M-O) Immunofluorescent staining for SMAA in uterine cross-sections (40×). Blue, DAPI. Genotypes: A, Hoxa9,10,11+; a,
Hoxa9,10,11−; D, Hoxd9,10,11+; d, Hoxd9,10,11−. le, luminal epithelium; ge, glandular epithelium; s, stroma; myo, myometrium; ov, ovary; ovi, oviduct; ut,
uterus; lm, longitudinal muscle; cm, circular muscle.
the functional redundancy of Hoxa9,10,11 and Hoxd9,10,11 in the
development of the vas deferens.
Interestingly, the size of the caudal epididymis was reduced
in Hoxa9,10,11−/−, Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−mice. Staining for SMAA in the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−caudal epididymis showed a thinning of the muscle
layer, suggesting that this structure now resembled the more anterior
caput segment of the epididymis (supplementary material Fig. S2).
The anteriorization of the Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−epididymis
was even more obvious, with extreme thinning of the muscle layer
in the caudal epididymis, further implicating Hoxd9,10,11 in male
reproductive tract patterning.
Microarray gene expression profiling defines the
molecular signature of anterior transformations
in the Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus
We used microarrays to better understand the molecular basis of the
observed anterior transformations in the Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus. In
comparing mutant and WT, 128 genes were differentially expressed
[fold change (FC)>2, P<0.05]. Fifty-three percent (39/74) of
upregulated genes were also upregulated in WT oviducts versus
uteri (FC>2, P<0.05), consistent with the observed gross
anteriorization. Hoxa9,10,11 therefore normally function, in part,
to repress the expression of these oviduct-related genes in the uterus.
For example, Ovgp1, which encodes oviductal glycoprotein 1,
normally shows much stronger expression in oviducts than uteri,
but was dramatically upregulated in mutant uteri (supplementary
material Table S2).
Other genes showing increased expression in mutant uteri, and
associated with anteriorization, included the growth factor/cytokine
genes Fgf1, Fgf16, Fgf18, Ccl8, Wnt2b, Slit2, Cxcl13 and Il1f8.
Downregulated genes included the growth factor Bmp7 and the
transcription factors Eya1, Lef1 and Hand2. Two microRNA
(miRNA) genes, Mir10b and Mir181b-1, were also downregulated
in the mutants.
The gene expression profile of Hoxd9,10,11−/−
uteri provides evidence of inflammation and non-
coding RNA regulation
The microarray data for Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri presented a different
landscape. Consistent with the normal morphology and histology,
there was very little molecular evidence of anteriorization towards
oviduct. Nevertheless, there were some striking differences in the
mutants. Surprisingly, Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri showed more genes with
Development 140 (14)
altered expression (189) than Hoxa9,10,11−/−mutant uteri. The
upregulated genes in Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri exhibited a clear
inflammatory signature, with cytokine genes (Ccl6, Ccl8, Ccl9,
Ccl11), antigen recognition genes (Cd209f, Clec4a1, Clec4a3) and
major histocompatibility complex class II components (H2-DMa, H2-
Aa), suggesting increased populations of antigen-presenting cells.
The downregulated genes were also very informative. Strikingly,
nearly all encoded short non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including
small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), miRNAs and small Cajal body-
specific RNAs (scaRNAs). Interestingly, one upregulated gene in
the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus was Rbm3, which when overexpressed
can cause a global depletion of miRNAs (Dresios et al., 2005).
These results show that Hoxd9,10,11are positive regulators of small
Comparison of the Hoxa9,10,11 and Hoxd9,10,11
mutant expression profiles reveals overlapping
and distinct Hox gene targets in the uterus
Hox paralogs are thought to have predominantly overlapping sets of
downstream targets. It is therefore interesting to consider the overlap
of perturbed gene expression profiles of the Hoxa9,10,11−/−and
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri. Surprisingly few genes (<10%) were present
in the upregulated gene lists of both mutants. This is consistent with
the observed anteriorization of Hoxa9,10,11−/−in contrast to
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri. There was greater overlap among the genes
showing reduced expression in the mutants. Of the 58 genes with
lower expression in Hoxa9,10,11 mutants, 25 also showed reduced
expression in Hoxd9,10,11 mutant uteri. Furthermore, over 90% of
these shared genes encoded small regulatory ncRNAs.
Compound Hox mutant uteri provide further
molecular evidence of Hoxa9,10,11 and
Hoxd9,10,11 functional redundancy
As more Hox genes were removed, the homeotic transformation
of the uterus towards oviduct became more extreme.
Comparison of significantly differentially expressed genes
(P<0.05) in Hoxa9,10,11−/−,
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−and WT uteri revealed a subset of 110
co-regulated genes that were changed at least 2-fold in one genotype
(supplementary material Table S2). Hierarchical clustering
produced a heatmap connecting molecular anteriorization and
genotype (Fig. 4A). Fold changes in gene expression generally
correlated with the severity of anteriorization, such that
Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−had the greatest fold change followed by
Fig. 3. Homeotic transformations in
the Hox mutant vas deferens.
(A-F) Gross analysis of mouse adult
male reproductive tracts. Arrow and
brackets indicate the location of the
junction between the caudal
epididymis and the vas deferens.
Coiling of the aaDd vas deferens is
indicative of anteriorization. (G-L) H&E
staining of the vas deferens (G-I,K,L) and
epididymis (J) (original magnification
10×). (M-O) Immunofluorescent
staining for SMAA in the vas deferens.
Blue, DAPI. Genotype key as Fig. 2. Epi,
epididymis; Corp, corporal; le, luminal
epithelium; s, stroma; sm, smooth
muscle; Vas, vas deferens.
material Table S2). Ovgp1 provides an example of this
expression/morphology relationship, showing increases of 9.0-, 6.5-
and 5.1-fold in Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−, Hoxa9,10,11−/−and
Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−uteri, respectively (supplementary
material Table S2; Fig. 4B). Ovgp1 expression was unchanged in
uteri, in agreement with the absence of
anteriorization in this genotype.
The gene expression profile of Hoxa9,10,11−/−vas
deferens reveals molecular anteriorization but
little overlap with the uterine profile
Similar to the upregulation of anterior genes in Hoxa9,10,11−/−uteri,
many of the genes upregulated in the mutant vas deferens were
those that are normally highly expressed in the more anterior
epididymis. Microarray analysis of Hoxa9,10,11−/−versus WT vas
deferens found 474 differentially expressed genes, 75% (221/295)
of which are normally expressed at much higher levels in the
epididymis than in the vas deferens. Rps12, which is highly
expressed in the epididymis and upregulated in the mutant vas
deferens, provides one example (Fig. 4C). Very few genes showed
changes in expression common to both uterus and vas deferens in
Hoxa9,10,11−/−mutants. These included the downregulated
transcription factor Eya1 and placental Plac8 and the upregulated
retinoic acid-binding protein Crabp2 and pro-inflammatory Retnla.
Hox reproductive tract functions
The Hoxd9,10,11−/−vas deferens also provides
evidence of Hox gene regulation of ncRNAs
Compared with Hoxa9,10,11−/−, a much smaller set of genes was
differentially expressed in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−vas deferens (91
genes with FC>2, P<0.05) (supplementary material Table S3).
Much like Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri, there was little molecular evidence
of anterior transformation, as only five of these genes are normally
expressed at higher levels in the epididymis. Comparison of this
dataset with paralogous Hoxa9,10,11 mutants revealed that only
three of 36 upregulated genes were shared.
There was, however, a striking prevalence of small ncRNAs in
the 55 downregulated genes, similar to in Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri.
Thirty percent of the downregulated genes in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−
vas deferens were also downregulated in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus
and all of them were ncRNAs. The downregulation of small
ncRNAs in both male and female Hoxd9,10,11−/−reproductive
tracts underscores the potential role of these Hox genes in driving
Compound Hox mutant vas deferens provides
further molecular evidence of Hox functional
Microarray analyses of the Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−
Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−vas deferens revealed expression changes
that corresponded to an increased severity of anterior
Fig. 4. Microarray analysis of Hox mutant uteri
and vas deferens provides a molecular
definition of anteriorization. (A,D) Heatmaps of
genes co-regulated in Hox mutant versus WT
uteri (A) and vas deferens (D). Note the anterior
shifts in gene expression in the Hox mutants, with
the mutant uterus resembling oviduct and
mutant vas deferens resembling epididymis. Red
indicates high, blue indicates low and yellow
indicates intermediate gene expression.
(B) Immunofluorescence staining for the
oviductal glycoprotein OVGP1 shows clear
upregulation in mutant compared with WT uteri,
with high expression normally restricted to
oviducts. (C) Similarly, the ribosomal protein
RPS12 shows elevated expression in mutant vas
deferens, resembling the WT epididymis. Blue,
DAPI. Genotype key as Fig. 2. ge, glandular
epithelium; le, luminal epithelium; sm, smooth
muscle; Vas, vas deferens; Epi, epididymis; Ovi,
oviduct; Ut, uterus.
transformation, with 139 and 682 differentially expressed genes
(P<0.05 and FC>2), respectively. Comparison of the significantly
altered genes (P<0.05) in these datasets along with the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−dataset yielded 201 co-regulated genes that were
changed at least 2-fold in one genotype (supplementary material
Table S3). These genes were used to generate a heatmap, which
clearly shows that the expression signature in the Hox mutant vas
deferens was dramatically shifted to resemble that of the WT
epididymis (Fig. 4D).
RNA-Seq analysis validates the microarray
changes and reveals new changes undetected by
We then used RNA-Seq to examine the altered gene expression
patterns of the Hox mutant reproductive tracts. Genes that were
defined as differently expressed by microarrays were mostly
confirmed as differently expressed by RNA-Seq. For example, 84%
of genes identified by microarrays as differently expressed in the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus were also found by RNA-Seq (supplementary
material Table S4). The major reason for disagreement appeared to
result from the different methods used for cDNA synthesis. The
TruSeq RNA-Seq technology used an initial poly(A)+selection step,
whereas the Ambion microarray technology included a random
primer for cDNA synthesis. Therefore, the microarrays detected
gene expression differences in non-polyadenylated RNAs not seen
by RNA-Seq. This difference was particularly pronounced for the
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus, where most of the gene expression
differences detected by microarrays involved small ncRNAs that
are often non-polyadenylated or only transiently polyadenylated. In
this case, only 36% of the gene expression differences seen with
arrays were also detected by RNA-Seq (supplementary material
Table S4). The two methods were therefore complementary.
RNA-Seq analysis typically resulted in a 5- to 15-fold increase in
the number of significantly differentially expressed genes identified
(FC>2, P<0.05) compared with microarray analysis. Whereas the
microarrays generally distinguished hundreds of gene expression
differences, RNA-Seq found thousands. There appeared to be
multiple reasons for this discrepancy, including lower background
with RNA-Seq, the different amplification technologies employed
and the limitations of microarrays in terms of gene representation.
Differential splicing in Hoxa9,10,11 and
Hoxd9,10,11 mutant reproductive tracts
RNA-Seq detects alternative splicing events. We observed that the
Hox clusters displayed a number of interesting noncanonical
splicing patterns, many of which we have previously described in
the developing kidney (Brunskill and Potter, 2012). For example, in
the WT uterus the last exon of Hoxd11 was frequently spliced to the
last exon of Hoxd10, resulting in a frameshifted non-coding
transcript (Fig. 5A). Interestingly, this splicing was absent in the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus, and the same pattern held for the WT and
Hoxa9,10,11−/−vas deferens. This suggests splicing cross-
regulation between Hox clusters. The Hox mutants also showed
distinct RNA processing patterns for many other genes
(supplementary material Fig. S3).
Hox gene cross-regulation
The predominant expression of Hoxa9,10,11 in the uterus was
clearly shown in RNA-Seq data from the entire HoxA cluster
(Fig. 5B). Hoxa9,10,11 were highly expressed in the WT uterus,
with very little expression of other HoxA genes. The HoxD cluster
also showed high levels of expression for Hoxd9,10,11, with
Development 140 (14)
moderate to high expression for Hoxd3,4,8 (Fig. 5C). Hoxb6,7,8
were strongly expressed in the uterus with no difference among
genotypes (Fig. 5D). The HoxC cluster exhibited very low
expression in the WT uterus (Fig. 5E), but paralogs of the genes
targeted in this study (Hoxc9,10,11) were significantly upregulated
in all Hoxa9,10,11and Hoxd9,10,11mutant uteri (Fig. 5F). It is also
interesting to note that, although Hoxa9,10,11 and Hoxd9,10,11
clearly have overlapping functions, there was no compensatory
expression of Hoxd9,10,11 in Hoxa9,10,11 mutants or vice versa.
We also observed cross-regulatory interactions with non-
paralogous Hox genes in the uterus. All other HoxA genes
(Hoxa1-7 and Hoxa13) and the 3? HoxC genes (Hoxc4-8) were
upregulated to varying degrees in the Hoxa9,10,11−/−,
(Fig. 5F). Hoxc4was also upregulated in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus.
In addition, Hox genes were upregulated in the mutant vas deferens,
although less extensive than for the uterus.
Genes associated with immune-related processes
are upregulated in Hox mutant uteri
RNA-Seq data provided a more comprehensive definition of
the upregulated immune processes in Hox mutant uteri.
Gene ontology analyses revealed that immune processes
were significantly enriched (false discovery rate correction,
P<0.05) in all Hox mutant uteri datasets, with a particularly
strong signature in Hoxd9,10,11−/−and Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−
mice (supplementary material Table S5). To define altered
immune cell populations in the Hox mutant uteri we performed
flow cytometric analysis. We found a dramatic 3-fold increase in
the number of CD45+hematopoietic cells in Hoxd9,10,11−/−
versus WT uteri (Fig. 6A). The majority of CD45+cells were
CD11b+myeloid lineage cells in both WT and Hoxd9,10,11−/−,
but the percentage of CD11b+cells in the CD45+population was
significantly increased in mutant versus WT uteri (88% versus
72%; Fig. 6B), and the total number of CD11b+cells was nearly
4-fold higher in the mutants (Fig. 6C). Further analysis of myeloid
lineage cells in mutant uteri showed an influx of either F4/80+
macrophages or GR1+granulocytes (representative flow panels
are shown in Fig. 6D). More specifically, two of seven
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri had an increased percentage of F4/80+cells
among CD45+cells (72% versus a WT average of 52%) and five
of seven mutant uteri had an increased percentage of GR1+cells
(30% versus a WT average of 7.6%). The reasons for this
variability are unknown. Immunofluorescent staining of uterine
sections for F4/80 also showed increased expression throughout
the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus (Fig. 6E). To determine whether these
changes were uterus specific or reflective of alterations in the
global hematopoietic system we also performed hemavet analyses
on peripheral blood from the mice used for flow cytometric
analyses. We found significant increases in total white blood cells
and lymphocytes with trends toward increases in neutrophil and
monocyte populations in Hoxd9,10,11−/−blood (supplementary
material Fig. S4).
Uterine-specific natural killer cells (uNKs) play key roles in
embryo implantation and placental development as well as
providing innate immune protection (Lash and Bulmer, 2011). A
previous study of Hoxa10−/−mice showed inhibited differentiation
of uNKs in the decidua basalis, as detected by the absence of
granzyme A expression (Rahman et al., 2006). Confirming and
extending this observation, RNA-Seq analysis showed seven
granzyme genes with expression downregulated 3- to 100-fold in
the Hoxa9,10,11−/−mutants, with smaller fold changes for these
genes in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−mutants (see supplementary material
Hoxa9,10,11 mutant uteri show abnormal
keratinization and stratification of the epithelium
RNA-Seq analysis uncovered a squamous epithelium gene
expression signature suggesting a novel posteriorization of the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus. For reasons that are not clear, these
changes in gene expression were not detected with microarrays.
Several keratin genes typically associated with stratified,
squamous epithelium were highly upregulated in Hoxa9,10,11−/−
uteri (supplementary material Table S5). This was surprising given
that both the uterus and oviduct are lined with a columnar
epithelium. A transition to a stratified, squamous epithelium
normally occurs further posterior at the junction with the cervix.
Immunofluorescent staining for KRT5 was performed on sections
from the anterior, middle and posterior ends of WT and
Hox reproductive tract functions
Hoxa9,10,11−/−posterior uterus displayed pseudostratification and
strong KRT5 expression in the most basal epithelial cells, similar
to the staining observed in WT vaginal tissue (Fig. 7A). We also
found dramatically increased KRT5 expression in the middle and
anterior portions of the mutant uterus, although these sections
displayed normal columnar epithelium.
To better define the extent of stratification and KRT5 expression
in the mutant uterus, we analyzed longitudinal sections and stitched
together composite images to provide a full-length view of the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−and WT uterus (Fig. 7B). In the WT there is a very
clear transition from the low KRT5-expressing columnar epithelium
of the lower uterus to the brightly staining KRT5+stratified
epithelium of the cervix. However, the mutant displays an extended
transition zone, with bright KRT5+basal cells appearing in the lower
uterus and KRT5+columnar cells extending rostral to near the
oviducts. Hoxa9,10,11−/−uteri also showed a small but significant
uteri. Strikingly, the epithelium of the
Fig. 5. Differential splicing and compensatory upregulation of Hox genes in mutant reproductive tracts. (A) The frequent alternative splicing
that occurs between the second exon of Hoxd11 and the second exon of Hoxd10 in the WT uterus is absent in the Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus. Dots are
individual 50 bp reads and lines indicate introns. Arrowheads indicate splicing events connecting Hoxd11 and Hoxd10 exons. (B-E) RNA-Seq expression
peaks for (B) HoxA, (C) HoxD, (D) HoxB and (E) HoxC clusters shows the dominance of Hoxa9,10,11 expression in the WT uterus. Numbers to the right
indicate read numbers. (F) Fold increases in the expression of HoxA and HoxC cluster genes in Hox mutant (HoxA refers to Hoxa9,10,11 and HoxD refers to
Hoxd9,10,11) versus WT uteri as detected by RNA-Seq.
increase in the expression of Hoxa13 (Fig. 5F), which is typically
expressed only in the cervix and vagina.
These results strongly suggest that Hoxa9,10,11 function to
repress the expression of both the anterior oviductal and posterior
cervix/vaginal genes in the uterus, and are therefore essential for
specifying proper uterine architecture.
We have developed a novel recombineering strategy that allows the
generation of BAC-based DNA targeting constructs designed to
simultaneously introduce frameshift mutations into multiple
flanking genes. This strategy circumvented the deletion of shared
regulatory elements located between Hox genes, a complication that
confounded previous Cre-LoxP-mediated Hox deletion studies. We
generated mice with simultaneous mutations in Hoxa9, Hoxa10and
Hoxa11, the only three genes of the HoxA cluster with abundant
expression in the uterus. We reasoned that the triple mutations might
reveal reproductive tract functions masked in single mutants by
flanking gene functional redundancies. We also generated triple
mutant mice with frameshifts in Hoxd9, Hoxd10 and Hoxd11.
Although these genes had not been implicated in reproductive tract
patterning, we suspected that previously hidden roles might be
uncovered by combining them with the paralogous Hoxa9,10,11
Hoxa9,10,11 mutants showed synergistic reproductive tract
anterior homeotic transformations, as defined by morphology,
histology and gene expression profile. This extends previous studies
that provided evidence of Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 redundancy in the
female reproductive tract (Benson et al., 1996; Gendron et al., 1997;
Branford et al., 2000). These results strongly suggest overlapping
functions for the Hoxa9,10,11 flanking genes. In addition, we show
a previously undetected functional overlap of Hoxa9,10,11 and
Hoxd9,10,11 in patterning the reproductive tracts. Although
Hoxd9,10,11−/−mice showed few, if any, signs of reproductive tract
anteriorization, the removal of one Hoxd9,10,11 copy from
Hoxa9,10,11−/−mice significantly exacerbated anterior homeotic
transformations of the uterus and vas deferens. In addition,
displayed synergistic morphological changes in the reproductive
tracts. The removal of at least some Hoxa9,10,11 gene activity,
Development 140 (14)
therefore, was necessary to unmask Hoxd9,10,11 reproductive tract
It is important to note that this study did not remove all Hox
function during reproductive tract development. Owing to early
postnatal lethality we were not able to examine adult reproductive
tracts of Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11−/−homozygous mutant mice. In
addition, Hoxb9 and Hoxc9,10,11 remained intact, and although
these genes normally show very low expression levels, for example
in the uterus, we did observe significant compensatory upregulation
in the mutants. It remains likely, therefore, that removal of all Hox
function would result in even more dramatic phenotypes.
To better understand the molecular nature of the mutant
phenotypes we used microarray and RNA-Seq gene expression
profiling technologies that were both cross-validating and
complementary. The results identified sets of more anterior oviduct
and epididymis genes that were ectopically expressed in the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterus and vas deferens, respectively. Although
Hoxd9,10,11−/−mutants did not show significant molecular
anteriorization, when combined with paralogous HoxAmutations, as
in Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−, there were increases in anterior gene
expression correlating with
transformations. Clearly, Hoxa9,10,11, and to a lesser extent
Hoxd9,10,11, normally function to repress the expression of these
oviduct and epididymis genes in more posterior structures. These
effects could be either direct or indirect.
We also found that Hoxd9,10,11 play a role in female
fertility. Hoxd9,10,11−/−, Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11+/−
Hoxa9,1011+/−d9,10,11−/−mice display varying levels of reduced
fertility not seen in Hoxd9−/−, Hoxd10−/−or Hoxd11−/−mutants. This
strongly suggests overlapping functions for these flanking and
paralogous Hox genes.
Surprisingly, most of the downregulated genes in both the mutant
uterus and vas deferens were non-polyadenylated small regulatory
ncRNAs. The majority of these ncRNAs in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−
reproductive tracts were functionally diverse snoRNAs. A number of
miRNAs were also downregulated in both the Hoxa9,10,11−/−and
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri. Two of these miRNAs, Mir181 and Mir10b,
were previously shown to downregulate Hox genes (Naguibneva et
al., 2006; Sun et al., 2011), and Mir7 was reported to be a target of
Hox regulation (Reddy et al., 2008). Our results suggest reciprocal
more complete homeotic
Fig. 6. Hoxd9,10,11 mutant uteri display
inflammation characterized by infiltration of
myeloid lineage cells. (A-C) Flow cytometric
analysis of hematopoietic cells in Hoxd9,10,11−/−
(n=7) versus WT (n=6) uteri shows significantly
increased (A) total CD45+cells, (B) CD45+CD11b+
myeloid lineage cells and (C) total CD11b+cells.
**P<0.01, ***P<0.001 (t-test); error bars indicate
s.e.m. (D) Pseudocolored dot plots from WT and
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri (representative panels from
n=2/genotype) showing that the increased
CD11b+population in mutant uteri results from
increases in either F4/80+macrophages or GR1+
granulocytes; the percentage of CD45+cells is
shown in the corner of each quadrant. (E) The
infiltration of F4/80+macrophages into some
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri was also confirmed by
immunofluorescence staining for the macrophage
marker F4/80 in uterine cross-sections. Blue, DAPI.
Arrows indicate F4/80+cells. Genotype key as Fig.
2. le, luminal epithelium; ge, glandular epithelium;
s, stroma; myo, myometrium.
regulation of miRNAs by Hox genes, resulting in a negative-feedback
loop. For example, Hox genes normally drive increased expression of
Mir181, which in turn targets Hoxa11mRNA for degradation. During
the terminal differentiation of myoblasts, Hoxa11 normally inhibits
MyoD expression. Increased Mir181 expression represses Hoxa11,
thereby allowing elevated MyoD expression and promoting
myogenesis (Naguibneva et al., 2006). The dysregulation of Mir181b-
1and MyoDmight be responsible, in part, for the disruption of muscle
and aberrant muscle-related gene expression observed in the
Hox mutant reproductive tracts. Importantly, myocardin, a key
regulator of smooth muscle differentiation, was downregulated
in the Hoxa9,10,11−/−
(Hoxa9,10,11−/−d9,10,11+/−and Hoxa9,10,11+/−d9,10,11−/−) vas
One of the most striking results of the gene expression profiling
was the dramatic upregulation of inflammatory markers in Hox
mutant uteri. This signature was most pronounced in
Hoxd9,10,11−/−uteri, where nearly all upregulated genes were
related to immune processes. The inflammatory response was
validated by immunostaining and flow cytometry showing an influx
of CD45+CD11b+myeloid lineage cells in mutant uteri. The
increased CD11b+cells were not uniform in identity among
mutants. The most prevalent granulocytes in circulating blood are
neutrophils, which are exclusively phagocytic cells that respond to
acute infection. Macrophages are also phagocytes that typically
respond to chronic infection, but have additional roles in antigen
both nine allele mutant
Hox reproductive tract functions
presentation and signaling. The increased numbers of these
phagocytes in the Hoxd9,10,11−/−uterus could suggest infection or
inflammation in this tissue or the improper recruitment of these cells
to the uterus. It is well known that infiltration of leukocytes into the
uterus occurs in response to estrogen (Zheng et al., 1988), so it is
possible that the increases we observed result from dysregulated
levels of, or response to, estrogen in the mutants. Increased uterine
leukocytes could also reflect a global increase in leukocytes.
Analysis of peripheral blood did show significantly increased total
white blood cells, with trends toward increased neutrophils and
monocytes in Hoxd9,10,11 mutants. Interestingly, although HoxA,
HoxBand HoxCgenes are expressed in hematopoietic cells (Moretti
et al., 1994), HoxD gene expression has not been detected in these
cells. This suggests that any hematopoietic effects of Hoxd9,10,11
mutation are probably indirect.
Surprisingly, we observed an apparent posteriorization of the
Hoxa9,10,11−/−uterine epithelium. As determined by gene
expression profile, histology and immunochemistry, the normal
columnar epithelial layer of the uterus was partially posteriorized to
a more vaginal-type stratified, squamous epithelium. This finding is
anti-dogmatic, as Hox mutations almost always produce
anteriorization. Interestingly, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) has been
shown to produce a columnar-to-squamous transition in the mouse
uterus (Ponnamperuma et al., 1999). Taken together with our results
and the fact that Hox genes are targets of retinoic acid signaling
(Marshall et al., 1996), this suggests that VAD could result in
reduced expression of Hoxa9,10,11 in the uterus leading to
squamous metaplasia. In addition, Wnt7a mutants show decreased
expression of Hoxa10 and Hoxa11 and uterine posteriorization, as
evidenced by stratification of the uterine epithelium and altered gene
expression (Dunlap et al., 2011). These results suggest that
Hoxa9,10,11 positively stamp the uterus identity, actively repelling
influences from both anterior and posterior.
We thank Adam Kushner for help with maintaining the mouse colony and
Shawn Smith and Hung-Chi Liang for help with the microarray and RNA-Seq
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [RO1 DK061916
to S.P., RO1 CA159845 to H.L.G. and RO1 HD068524 to S.K.D.]. Deposited in
PMC for release after 12 months.
Competing interests statement
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
A.M.R. carried out much of the analysis of the mutant phentoypes; M.A.
performed the recombineering and targeting of ESCs; B.M. performed the
Hoxd9,10,11 in situ hybridizations and a number of immunostainings; S.E.M.
and H.L.G. were responsible for the analysis of hematopoietic mutant
phentoypes; S.K.D. performed multiple dissections and provided invaluable
reproductive tract expertise; and S.S.P. carried out chimera production and
helped to direct the studies.
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