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The cephalochordate amphioxus has a single Hox gene cluster. Here we describe the genomic organization of four adjacent amphioxus genes, AmphiHox-1 to AmphiHox-4, together with analysis of their spatiotemporal expression patterns. We demonstrate that these genes obey temporal colinearity and that three of the genes also obey spatial colinearity in the developing neural tube. AmphiHox-1, AmphiHox-3, and AmphiHox-4 show segmental modulation of their expression levels, a two-segment phasing of spatial colinearity, and, at least for AmphiHox-4, asymmetrical expression. AmphiHox-2 is unlike other amphioxus Hox genes: it does not obey spatial colinearity and it has no positional expression in the neural tube. AmphiHox-2 is expressed in the preoral pit of larvae, from which the homologue of the anterior pituitary develops. We suggest that the ancestral role of chordate Hox genes was primarily in the neural tube and that chordate Hox genes can functionally diverge in a manner analogous to that of Drosophila ftz or zen.

Original publication




Journal article


Dev Biol

Publication Date





131 - 141


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Base Sequence, Body Patterning, Chordata, Nonvertebrate, DNA, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Genes, Homeobox, Molecular Sequence Data, Multigene Family, Sequence Homology, Amino Acid, Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid