Function and specificity of synthetic Hox transcription factors in vivo

Dimitrios K Papadopoulos, Vladana Vukojevic, Yoshitsugu Adachi, Lars Terenius, Rudolf Rigler, Walter J Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Homeotic (Hox) genes encode transcription factors that confer segmental identity along the anteroposterior axis of the embryo. However the molecular mechanisms underlying Hox-mediated transcription and the differential requirements for specificity in the regulation of the vast number of Hox-target genes remain ill-defined. Here we show that synthetic Sex combs reduced (Scr) genes that encode the Scr C terminus containing the homedomain (HD) and YPWM motif (Scr-HD) are functional in vivo. Synthetic Scr-HD peptides can induce ectopic salivary glands in the embryo and homeotic transformations in the adult fly, act as transcriptional activators and repressors during development, and participate in protein-protein interactions. Their transformation capacity was found to be enhanced over their full-length counterpart and mutations known to transform the full-length protein into constitutively active or inactive variants behaved accordingly in the synthetic peptides. Our results show that synthetic Scr-HD genes are sufficient for homeotic function in Drosophila and suggest that the N terminus of Scr has a role in transcriptional potency, rather than specificity. We also demonstrate that synthetic peptides behave largely in a predictable way, by exhibiting Scr-specific phenotypes throughout development, which makes them an important tool for synthetic biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4087-92
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2010


  • DNA
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Kinetics
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Transcription Factors
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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