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Development. 1999 Dec;126(24):5819-31.

Patterning of dopaminergic neurotransmitter identity among Caenorhabditis elegans ray sensory neurons by a TGFbeta family signaling pathway and a Hox gene.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


We have investigated the mechanism that patterns dopamine expression among Caenorhabditis elegans male ray sensory neurons. Dopamine is expressed by the A-type sensory neurons in three out of the nine pairs of rays. We used expression of a tyrosine hydroxylase reporter transgene as well as direct assays for dopamine to study the genetic requirements for adoption of the dopaminergic cell fate. In loss-of-function mutants affecting a TGFbeta family signaling pathway, the DBL-1 pathway, dopaminergic identity is adopted irregularly by a wider subset of the rays. Ectopic expression of the pathway ligand, DBL-1, from a heat-shock-driven transgene results in adoption of dopaminergic identity by rays 3-9; rays 1 and 2 are refractory. The rays are therefore prepatterned with respect to their competence to be induced by a DBL-1 pathway signal. Temperature-shift experiments with a temperature-sensitive type II receptor mutant, as well as heat-shock induction experiments, show that the DBL-1 pathway acts during an interval that extends from two to one cell generation before ray neurons are born and begin to differentiate. In a mutant of the AbdominalB class Hox gene egl-5, rays that normally express EGL-5 do not adopt dopaminergic fate and cannot be induced to express DA when DBL-1 is provided by a heat-shock-driven dbl-1 transgene. Therefore, egl-5 is required for making a subset of rays capable of adopting dopaminergic identity, while the function of the DBL-1 pathway signal is to pattern the realization of this capability.

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