UNC-4 antagonizes Wnt signaling to regulate synaptic choice in the C. elegans motor circuit
ABSTRACT Coordinated movement depends on the creation of synapses between specific neurons in the motor circuit. In C. elegans, this important decision is regulated by the UNC-4 homeodomain protein. unc-4 mutants are unable to execute backward locomotion because VA motor neurons are mis-wired with inputs normally reserved for their VB sisters. We have proposed that UNC-4 functions in VAs to block expression of VB genes. This model is substantiated by the finding that ectopic expression of the VB gene ceh-12 (encoding a homolog of the homeodomain protein HB9) in unc-4 mutants results in the mis-wiring of posterior VA motor neurons with VB-like connections. Here, we show that VA expression of CEH-12 depends on a nearby source of the Wnt protein EGL-20. Our results indicate that UNC-4 prevents VAs from responding to a local EGL-20 cue by disabling a canonical Wnt signaling cascade involving the Frizzled receptors MIG-1 and MOM-5. CEH-12 expression in VA motor neurons is also opposed by a separate pathway that includes the Wnt ligand LIN-44. This work has revealed a transcriptional mechanism for modulating the sensitivity of specific neurons to diffusible Wnt ligands and thereby defines distinct patterns of synaptic connectivity. The existence of comparable Wnt gradients in the vertebrate spinal cord could reflect similar roles for Wnt signaling in vertebrate motor circuit assembly.
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ABSTRACT: Electrical synaptic transmission through gap junctions is a vital mode of intercellular communication in the nervous system. The mechanism by which reciprocal target cells find each other during the formation of gap junctions, however, is poorly understood. Here we show that gap junctions are formed between BDU interneurons and PLM mechanoreceptors in C. elegans and the connectivity of BDU with PLM is influenced by Wnt signaling. We further identified two PAS-bHLH family transcription factors, AHA-1 and AHR-1, which function cell-autonomously within BDU and PLM to facilitate the target identification process. aha-1 and ahr-1 act genetically upstream of cam-1. CAM-1, a membrane-bound receptor tyrosine kinase, is present on both BDU and PLM cells and likely serves as a Wnt antagonist. By binding to a cis-regulatory element in the cam-1 promoter, AHA-1 enhances cam-1 transcription. Our study reveals a Wnt-dependent fine-tuning mechanism that is crucial for mutual target cell identification during the formation of gap junction connections.PLoS Genetics 06/2013; 9(6):e1003618. DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003618 · 8.17 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Understanding how thousands of different neuronal types are generated in the CNS constitutes a major challenge for developmental neurobiologists and is a prerequisite before considering cell or gene therapies of nervous lesions or pathologies. During embryonic development, spinal motor neurons (MNs) segregate into distinct subpopulations that display specific characteristics and properties including molecular identity, migration pattern, allocation to specific motor columns, and innervation of defined target. Because of the facility to correlate these different characteristics, the diversification of spinal MNs has become the model of choice for studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the generation of multiple neuronal populations in the developing CNS. Therefore, how spinal motor neuron subpopulations are produced during development has been extensively studied during the last two decades. In this review article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the genetic and molecular mechanisms that contribute to the diversification of spinal MNs.Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS 06/2013; DOI:10.1007/s00018-013-1398-x · 5.86 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Proper circuit connectivity is critical for nervous system function. Connectivity derives from the interaction of two interdependent modules: synaptic specificity and synaptic assembly. Specificity involves both targeting of neurons to specific laminar regions and the formation of synapses onto defined subcellular areas. In this review, we focus discussion on recently elucidated molecular mechanisms that control synaptic specificity and link them to synapse assembly. We use these molecular pathways to underscore fundamental cell biological concepts that underpin, and help explain, the rules governing synaptic specificity.Current opinion in neurobiology 08/2013; 23(6). DOI:10.1016/j.conb.2013.07.004 · 6.77 Impact Factor