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Development. 1997 Oct;124(20):3965-73.

The Caenorhabditis elegans NK-2 homeobox gene ceh-22 activates pharyngeal muscle gene expression in combination with pha-1 and is required for normal pharyngeal development.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, 60607, USA.


Pharyngeal muscle development in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans appears to share similarities with cardiac muscle development in other species. We have previously described CEH-22, an NK-2 class homeodomain transcription factor similar to Drosophila tinman and vertebrate Nkx2-5, which is expressed exclusively in the pharyngeal muscles. In vitro, CEH-22 binds the enhancer from myo-2, a pharyngeal muscle-specific myosin heavy chain gene. In this paper, we examine the role CEH-22 plays in pharyngeal muscle development and gene activation by (a) ectopically expressing ceh-22 in transgenic C. elegans and (b) examining the phenotype of a ceh-22 loss-of-function mutant. These experiments indicate that CEH-22 is an activator of myo-2 expression and that it is required for normal pharyngeal muscle development. However, ceh-22 is necessary for neither formation of the pharyngeal muscles, nor for myo-2 expression. Our data suggest parallel and potentially compensating pathways contribute to pharyngeal muscle differentiation. We also examine the relationship between ceh-22 and the pharyngeal organ-specific differentiation gene pha-1. Mutations in ceh-22 and pha-1 have strongly synergistic effects on pharyngeal muscle gene expression; in addition, a pha-1 mutation enhances the lethal phenotype caused by a mutation in ceh-22. Wild-type pha-1 is not required for the onset of ceh-22 expression but it appears necessary for maintained expression of ceh-22.

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