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Dev Dyn. 2009 Dec;238(12):3080-92. doi: 10.1002/dvdy.22147.

Cis-regulatory mechanisms of gene expression in an olfactory neuron type in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Biology and National Center for Behavioral Genomics, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA.


The generation of cellular diversity is dependent on the precise spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression by both cis- and trans-acting mechanisms. The developmental principles regulating expression of specific gene subsets in individual cell types are not fully understood. Here we define the cis-regulatory mechanisms driving expression of cell-selective and broadly expressed genes in vivo in the AWB olfactory neuron subtype in C. elegans. We identify an element that is necessary to drive expression of neuron-selective chemoreceptor genes in the AWB neurons, and show that this element functions in a context-dependent manner. We find that the expression of broadly expressed sensory neuronal genes in the AWB neurons is regulated by diverse cis- and trans-regulatory mechanisms that act partly in parallel to the pathways governing expression of AWB-selective genes. We further demonstrate that cis-acting mechanisms driving gene expression in the AWB neurons appear to have diverged in related nematode species. Our results provide insights into the cis-regulatory logic driving cell-specific gene expression, and suggest that variations in this logic contribute to the generation of functional diversity.

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