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Development. 2000 Oct;127(20):4469-80.

Mab-3 is a direct tra-1 target gene regulating diverse aspects of C. elegans male sexual development and behavior.

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  • 1Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics Graduate Program, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


Sex determination is controlled by global regulatory genes, such as tra-1 in Caenorhabditis elegans, Sex lethal in Drosophila, or Sry in mammals. How these genes coordinate sexual differentiation throughout the body is a key unanswered question. tra-1 encodes a zinc finger transcription factor, TRA-1A, that regulates, directly or indirectly, all genes required for sexual development. mab-3 (male abnormal 3), acts downstream of tra-1 and is known to be required for sexual differentiation of at least two tissues. mab-3 directly regulates yolk protein transcription in the intestine and specifies male sense organ differentiation in the nervous system. It encodes a transcription factor related to the products of the Drosophila sexual regulator doublesex (dsx), which also regulates yolk protein transcription and male sense-organ differentiation. The similarities between mab-3 and dsx led us to suggest that some aspects of sex determination may be evolutionarily conserved. Here we find that mab-3 is also required for expression of male-specific genes in sensory neurons of the head and tail and for male interaction with hermaphrodites. These roles in male development and behavior suggest further functional similarity to dsx. In male sensory ray differentiation we find that MAB-3 acts synergistically with LIN-32, a neurogenic bHLH transcription factor. Expression of LIN-32 is spatially restricted by the combined action of the Hox gene mab-5 and the hairy homolog lin-22, while MAB-3 is expressed throughout the lateral hypodermis. Finally, we find that mab-3 transcription is directly regulated in the intestine by TRA-1A, providing a molecular link between the global regulatory pathway and terminal sexual differentiation.

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