HOX genes are a group of evolutionarily conserved genes that encode a family of transcription factors that regulate early developmental morphogenetic processes and continue to be expressed into adulthood. These highly conserved HOX factors play an unquestioned crucial role as master regulators during embryonic vertebrate development and morphogenesis by controlling the three dimensional body plan organization. HOX genes specify regions of the body plan of an embryo along the head-tail axis. They encode proteins that specify the characteristics of ‘position’, ensuring that the correct structures form in the correct places of the body. Expression of HOX is known to persist in many tissues in the postnatal period suggesting the role of these genes not only during development but also for the functioning of tissues throughout life. The tissue-specific pattern of HOX gene expression is inherent in stromal/stem cells of mesenchymal origin, such as mesenchymal stromal cells, fibroblasts, smooth muscle cells, and preadipocytes, enabling them to memorize their topographic location in the form of their HOX code and to fulfill their location-specific functions. In this chapter, we focus on the expression and potential role of HOX genes in adult tissues. We review evidence that site-specific expression of HOX genes is connected to location-specific disease susceptibility and review studies showing that dysregulated expression of HOX genes can be associated with various diseases. By recognizing the importance of site-specific molecular mechanisms in the organ stroma, we gain new insights into the processes underlying the site-specific manifestation of disease.
Part of the book: Fibroblasts