The identity of a given cell type is determined by the expression of a set of genes sharing common cis-regulatory motifs and being regulated by shared transcription factors. Here, we identify cis and trans regulatory elements that drive gene expression in the bilateral sensory neuron ASJ, located in the head of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. For this purpose, we have dissected the promoters of the only two genes so far reported to be exclusively expressed in ASJ, trx-1 and ssu-1. We hereby identify the ASJ motif, a functional cis-regulatory bipartite promoter region composed of two individual 6 bp elements separated by a 3 bp linker. The first element is a 6 bp CG-rich sequence that presumably binds the Sp family member zinc-finger transcription factor SPTF-1. Interestingly, within the C. elegans nervous system SPTF-1 is also found to be expressed only in ASJ neurons where it regulates expression of other genes in these neurons and ASJ cell fate. The second element of the bipartite motif is a 6 bp AT-rich sequence that is predicted to potentially bind a transcription factor of the homeobox family. Together, our findings identify a specific promoter signature and SPTF-1 as a transcription factor that functions as a terminal selector gene to regulate gene expression in C. elegans ASJ sensory neurons.

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Genetics (Print): a periodical record of investigations bearing on heredity and variation
Biophysical Genomics, Department Cell Biology & Genetics

González-Barrios, M., Fierro-González, J. C., Krpelanova, E., Mora-Lorca, J. A., Pedrajas, J. R., Peñate, X., … Miranda-Vizuet, A. (2015). Cis- and trans-regulatory mechanisms of gene expression in the ASJ sensory neuron of Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics (Print): a periodical record of investigations bearing on heredity and variation, 200(1), 123–134. doi:10.1534/genetics.115.176172