Homeobox (HOX) transcription factors, encoded by a subset of homeodomain superfamily genes, play pivotal roles in many aspects of cellular physiology, embryonic development, and tissue homeostasis. Findings over the past decade have revealed that mutations in HOX genes can lead to increased cancer predisposition, and HOX genes might mediate the effect of many other cancer susceptibility factors by recognizing or executing altered genetic information. Remarkably, several lines of evidence highlight the interplays between HOX transcription factors and cancer risk loci discovered by genome-wide association studies, thereby gaining molecular and biological insight into cancer etiology. In addition, deregulated HOX gene expression impacts various aspects of cancer progression, including tumor angiogenesis, cell autophagy, proliferation, apoptosis, tumor cell migration, and metabolism. In this review, we will discuss the fundamental roles of HOX genes in cancer susceptibility and progression, highlighting multiple molecular mechanisms of HOX involved gene misregulation, as well as their potential implications in clinical practice.
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