Hox cluster genes play crucial roles in development of the metazoan antero-posterior axis. Functions of Hox genes in patterning the central nervous system and limb buds are well known. They are also expressed in chordate endodermal tissues, where their roles in endodermal development are still poorly understood. In the invertebrate chordate, Ciona intestinalis, endodermal tissues are in a premature state during the larval stage, and they differentiate into the digestive tract during metamorphosis. In this study, we showed that disruption of a Hox gene, Ci-Hox10, prevented intestinal formation. Ci-Hox10-knock-down larvae displayed defective migration of endodermal strand cells. Formation of a protrusion, which is important for cell migration, was disrupted in these cells. The collagen type IX gene is a downstream target of Ci-Hox10, and is negatively regulated by Ci-Hox10 and a matrix metalloproteinase ortholog, prior to endodermal cell migration. Inhibition of this regulation prevented cellular migration. These results suggest that Ci-Hox10 regulates endodermal strand cell migration by forming a protrusion and by reconstructing the extracellular matrix.
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