Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: Cytogenetic and genome research
Reptiles are ancestral organisms presenting a variety of shapes, from the elongated vertebral column of the snake to the turtle dorsalized ribs or retractile neck. Body plans are specified by a conserved group of homeobox-containing genes (Hox genes), which encode transcription factors important in cell fate and vertebral architecture along the anteroposterior axis during embryonic development; thus, dysregulation of these genes may cause congenital malformations, from mild-sublethal to embryonic-lethal. The genetic pool, maternal transfer, and environmental conditions during egg incubation affect development; environmental factors such as temperature, moisture, oxygen, and pollution may alter gene expression by epigenetic mechanisms. Thus, in this review, we present information regarding Hox genes and development in reptiles, including sex determination and teratogenesis. We also present some evidence of epigenetic regulation of Hox genes and the role of the environment in epigenetic modulation of gene expression. So far, the evidence suggests that the molecular instructions encoded by Hox genes to build a snake, a lizard, or a turtle represent the interplay between genome and epigenome after years of evolution, with occasional environmentally induced molecular mistakes leading to abnormal body shapes. © 2018 S. Karger AG, Basel.