Heterogeneous combinatorial expression of Hoxd genes in single cells during limb development

Background: Global analyses of gene expression during development reveal specific transcription patterns associated with the emergence of various cell types, tissues, and organs. These heterogeneous patterns are instrumental to ensure the proper formation of the different parts of our body, as shown by the phenotypic effects generated by functional genetic approaches. However, variations at the cellular level can be observed within each structure or organ. In the developing mammalian limbs, expression of Hox genes from the HoxD cluster is differentially controlled in space and time, in cells that will pattern the digits and the forearms. While the Hoxd genes broadly share a common regulatory landscape and large-scale analyses have suggested a homogenous Hox gene transcriptional program, it has not previously been clear whether Hoxd genes are expressed together at the same levels in the same cells.
Results: We report a high degree of heterogeneity in the expression of the Hoxd11 and Hoxd13 genes. We analyzed single-limb bud cell transcriptomes and show that Hox genes are expressed in specific combinations that appear to match particular cell types. In cells giving rise to digits, we find that the expression of the five relevant Hoxd genes (Hoxd9 to Hoxd13) is unbalanced, despite their control by known global enhancers. We also report that specific combinatorial expression follows a pseudo-time sequence, which is established based on the transcriptional diversity of limb progenitors.
Conclusions: Our observations reveal the existence of distinct combinations of Hoxd genes at the single-cell level during limb development. In addition, we document that the increasing combinatorial expression of Hoxd genes in this developing structure is associated with specific transcriptional signatures and that these signatures illustrate a temporal progression in the differentiation of these cells.

Published in:
Bmc Biology, 16, 101
Sep 18 2018
London, BMC

 Record created 2018-12-13, last modified 2020-10-29

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