• Identification of Drosophila heart-specific Cis-Regulatory Modules under Hox control
  • Tevy, Maria Florencia <1978>


  • BIO/11 Biologia molecolare


  • Cardiac morphogenesis is a complex process governed by evolutionarily conserved transcription factors and signaling molecules. The Drosophila cardiac tube is linear, made of 52 pairs of cardiomyocytes (CMs), which express specific transcription factor genes that have human homologues implicated in Congenital Heart Diseases (CHDs) (NKX2-5, GATA4 and TBX5). The Drosophila cardiac tube is linear and composed of a rostral portion named aorta and a caudal one called heart, distinguished by morphological and functional differences controlled by Hox genes, key regulators of axial patterning. Overexpression and inactivation of the Hox gene abdominal-A (abd-A), which is expressed exclusively in the heart, revealed that abd-A controls heart identity. The aim of our work is to isolate the heart-specific cisregulatory sequences of abd-A direct target genes, the realizator genes granting heart identity. In each segment of the heart, four pairs of cardiomyocytes (CMs) express tinman (tin), homologous to NKX2-5, and acquire strong contractile and automatic rhythmic activities. By tyramide amplified FISH, we found that seven genes, encoding ion channels, pumps or transporters, are specifically expressed in the Tin-CMs of the heart. We initially used online available tools to identify their heart-specific cisregutatory modules by looking for Conserved Non-coding Sequences containing clusters of binding sites for various cardiac transcription factors, including Hox proteins. Based on these data we generated several reporter gene constructs and transgenic embryos, but none of them showed reporter gene expression in the heart. In order to identify additional abd-A target genes, we performed microarray experiments comparing the transcriptomes of aorta versus heart and identified 144 genes overexpressed in the heart. In order to find the heart-specific cis-regulatory regions of these target genes we developed a new bioinformatic approach where prediction is based on pattern matching and ordered statistics. We first retrieved Conserved Noncoding Sequences from the alignment between the D.melanogaster and D.pseudobscura genomes. We scored for combinations of conserved occurrences of ABD-A, ABD-B, TIN, PNR, dMEF2, MADS box, T-box and E-box sites and we ranked these results based on two independent strategies. On one hand we ranked the putative cis-regulatory sequences according to best scored ABD-A biding sites, on the other hand we scored according to conservation of binding sites. We integrated and ranked again the two lists obtained independently to produce a final rank. We generated nGFP reporter construct flies for in vivo validation. We identified three 1kblong heart-specific enhancers. By in vivo and in vitro experiments we are determining whether they are direct abd-A targets, demonstrating the role of a Hox gene in the realization of heart identity. The identified abd-A direct target genes may be targets also of the NKX2-5, GATA4 and/or TBX5 homologues tin, pannier and Doc genes, respectively. The identification of sequences coregulated by a Hox protein and the homologues of transcription factors causing CHDs, will provide a mean to test whether these factors function as Hox cofactors granting cardiac specificity to Hox proteins, increasing our knowledge on the molecular mechanisms underlying CHDs. Finally, it may be investigated whether these Hox targets are involved in CHDs.


  • 2008-06-09


  • Doctoral Thesis
  • PeerReviewed


  • application/pdf



Tevy, Maria Florencia (2008) Identification of Drosophila heart-specific Cis-Regulatory Modules under Hox control, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Biochimica , 20 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/646.