Genetic evidence for the transcriptional-activating function of homothorax during adult fly development

A. Inbal, N. Halachmi, C. Dibner, D. Frank, A. Salzberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Homothorax (HTH) is a homeobox-containing protein, which plays multiple roles in the development of the embryo and the adult fly. HTH binds to the homeotic cofactor Extradenticle (EXD) and translocates it to the nucleus. Its function within the nucleus is less clear. It was shown, mainly by in vitro studies, that HTH can bind DNA as a part of ternary HTH/EXD/HOX complexes, but little is known about the transcription regulating function of HTH-containing complexes in the context of the developing fly. Here we present genetic evidence, from in vivo studies, for the transcriptional-activating function of HTH. The HTH protein was forced to act as a transcriptional repressor by fusing it to the Engrailed (EN) repression domain, or as a transcriptional activator, by fusing it to the VP16 activation domain, without perturbing its ability to translocate EXD to the nucleus. Expression of the repressing form of HTH in otherwise wild-type imaginal discs phenocopied hth loss of function. Thus, the repressing form was working as an antimorph, suggesting that normally HTH is required to activate the transcription of downstream target genes. This conclusion was further supported by the observation that the activating form of HTH caused typical hth gain-of-function phenotypes and could rescue hth loss-of-function phenotypes. Similar results were obtained with XMeis3, the Xenopus homologue of HTH, extending the known functional similarity between the two proteins. Competition experiments demonstrated that the repressing forms of HTH or XMeis3 worked as true antimorphs competing with the transcriptional activity of the native form of HTH. We also describe the phenotypic consequences of HTH antimorph activity in derivatives of the wing, labial and genital discs. Some of the described phenotypes, for example, a proboscis-to-leg transformation, were not previously associated with alterations in HTH activity. Observing the ability of HTH antimorphs to interfere with different developmental pathways may direct us to new targets of HTH. The HTH antimorph described in this work presents a new means by which the transcriptional activity of the endogenous HTH protein can be blocked in an inducible fashion in any desired cells or tissues without interfering with nuclear localization of EXD.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3405-3413
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Activation
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Homeodomain
  • Homothorax
  • Imaginal discs
  • Meis
  • Transcription


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