Evolutionary conservation and tissue-specific processing of Hoxa 11 antisense transcripts
We previously described the existence of abundant, processed, polyadenylated murine Hoxa 11 antisense transcripts. Of particular interest, in the developing limbs the antisense transcripts were observed to be present in a pattern complementary to that of the sense transcripts, suggesting a possible regulatory function (Hsieh-Li et al. 1995). We have analyzed the human HOXA 11 genomic locus, showing strong evolutionary conservation of regions potentially encoding antisense transcripts. Human HOXA 11 fetal kidney antisense cDNAs were identified and sequenced, demonstrating the evolutionary conservation of Hoxa 11 antisense transcription. As for the mouse, the human antisense RNAs were polyadenylated and showed several alternative processing patterns, but shared the sequences of a common 3′ exon. The evolutionary conservation of the opposite strand transcripts strongly suggests function. A significantly long open reading frame was observed, but mouse-human comparisons argued against true coding function. Murine kidney Hoxa 11 antisense transcription and processing was also examined, revealing tissue-specific differences between limb and kidney. A novel procedure, designated Race in Circles, was devised and used to define mouse limb antisense transcription start sites. Furthermore, comparisons of human, mouse, and chicken sense transcript Hoxa 11 homeobox nucleotide sequences and their respective encoded homeodomains indicate a very strong selective pressure in vertebrates against mutations that result in coding changes. Given the significant differences in amino acid sequences of the homeodomains of different Hox genes, this observation argues for individual homeodomain functional specificity.