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Curr Biol. 2011 Jul 26;21(14):1225-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.06.016. Epub 2011 Jul 7.

Notch-dependent induction of left/right asymmetry in C. elegans interneurons and motoneurons.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Although nervous systems are largely bilaterally symmetric on a structural level, they display striking degrees of functional left/right (L/R) asymmetry. In Caenorhabditis elegans, two structurally symmetric pairs of sensory neurons, ASE and AWC, display two distinctly controlled types of functional L/R asymmetries (stereotyped versus stochastic asymmetry). Beyond these two cases, the extent of neuronal asymmetry in the C. elegans nervous system was unclear. Here, we report that the Beta3/Olig-type bHLH transcription factor hlh-16 is L/R asymmetrically expressed in several distinct, otherwise bilaterally symmetric interneuron and motoneuron pairs that are part of a known navigation circuit. We find that hlh-16 asymmetry is generated during gastrulation by an asymmetric LAG-2/Delta signal originating from the mesoderm that promotes hlh-16 expression in neurons on the left side through direct binding of the Notch effector LAG-1/Su(H)/CBF to a cis-regulatory element in the hlh-16 locus. Removal of hlh-16 reveals an unanticipated asymmetry in the ability of the axons of the AIY interneurons to extend into the nerve ring, with the left AIY axon requiring elevated hlh-16 expression for correct extension. Our study suggests that the extent of molecular L/R asymmetry in the C. elegans nervous system is broader than previously anticipated, establishes a novel signaling mechanism that crosses germ layers to diversify bilaterally symmetric neuronal lineages, and reveals L/R asymmetric control of axonal outgrowth of bilaterally symmetric neurons.

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