Division of Developmental Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, 3333 Burnet Ave, MLC 7007, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA; Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
During development diverse transcription factor inputs are integrated by cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) to yield cell-specific gene expression. Defining how CRMs recruit the appropriate combinations of factors to either activate or repress gene expression remains a challenge. In this study, we compare and contrast the ability of two CRMs within the Drosophila embryo to recruit functional Hox transcription factor complexes. The DCRE CRM recruits Ultrabithorax (Ubx) and Abdominal-A (Abd-A) Hox complexes that include the Extradenticle (Exd) and Homothorax (Hth) transcription factors to repress the Distal-less leg selector gene, whereas the RhoA CRM selectively recruits Abd-A/Exd/Hth complexes to activate rhomboid and stimulate Epidermal Growth Factor secretion in sensory cell precursors. By swapping binding sites between these elements, we found that the RhoA Exd/Hth/Hox site configuration that mediates Abd-A specific activation can convey transcriptional repression by both Ubx and Abd-A when placed into the DCRE. We further show that the orientation and spacing of Hox sites relative to additional binding sites within the RhoA and DCRE is critical to mediate cell- and segment-specific output. These results indicate that the configuration of Exd, Hth, and Hox site within RhoA is neither Abd-A specific nor activation specific. Instead Hox specific output is largely dependent upon the presence of appropriately spaced and oriented binding sites for additional TF inputs. Taken together, these studies provide insight into the cis-regulatory logic used to generate cell-specific outputs via recruiting Hox transcription factor complexes.