Hox genes are highly conserved transcription factors renowned for their roles in the segmental patterning of the embryonic anterior-posterior (A/P) axis. We report functions for Hox genes in A/P tissue segmentation and transverse fission behavior underlying asexual reproduction in adult planarian flatworms, Schmidtea mediterranea. Silencing of each of the Hox family members identifies 5 Hox genes required for asexual reproduction. Among these, silencing of hox3 genes results in supernumerary fission segments, while silencing of post2b eliminates segmentation altogether. The opposing roles of hox3 and post2b in segmentation are paralleled in their respective regulation of fission behavior. Silencing of hox3 increases the frequency of fission behavior initiation while silencing of post2b eliminates fission behavior entirely. Furthermore, we identify a network of downstream effector genes mediating Hox gene functions, providing insight into their respective mechanisms of action. In particular, we resolve roles for post2b and effector genes in the functions of the marginal adhesive organ in fission behavior regulation. Collectively, our study establishes adult stage roles for Hox genes in the regulation of tissue segmentation and behavior associated with asexual reproduction.
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Arnold, C.P., Lozano, A.M., Mann, F.G., Nowotarski, S.H., Haug, J.O., Lange, J.J., Seidel, C.W., Alvarado, A.S., 2021. Hox genes regulate asexual reproductive behavior and tissue segmentation in adult animals. Nat. Commun. 12, 6706.