Dr. Kmita’s primary research interest is ways in which genes control embryo development in vertebrates. Specifically, the research projects developed by her unit involve the Hox family of genes, whose operational anomalies have been associated with many genetic pathologies in humans. The 39 Hox genes in mammals are arranged in four clusters: HoxA, HoxB, HoxC and HoxD. The genes, which contain coding for transcription factors, are needed for setting up body architecture, as modelling is based on a precise allocation of spheres of activity for each of these genes along the anterior-posterior axis of the developing embryo.
The team’s objective is to identify the molecular mechanisms controlled by these transcription factors in order to understand how they work. Projects use murine models into which targeted mutations of Hox genes have been introduced. Recent studies using developing limbs as a model system indicate that the Hox genes not only play a role in skeletal modelling but also contribute to the growth of embryonic structures. The major projects currently being developed by Dr. Kmita’s team are studying the role Hox genes play in controlling growth. It is crucial to understand the mechanisms by which Hox genes contribute to regulating the proliferation and/or death of cells as this should shed light on the involvement of Hox genes in many tumours in which their expression has been found to be altered.