skip to main content

Title: A novel regulatory gene promotes novel cell fate by suppressing ancestral fate in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis
Cnidocytes (i.e., stinging cells) are an unequivocally novel cell type used by cnidarians (i.e., corals, jellyfish, and their kin) to immobilize prey. Although they are known to share a common evolutionary origin with neurons, the developmental program that promoted the emergence of cnidocyte fate is not known. Using functional genomics in the sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis , we show that cnidocytes develop by suppression of neural fate in a subset of neurons expressing RFamide. We further show that a single regulatory gene, a C 2 H 2 -type zinc finger transcription factor (ZNF845), coordinates both the gain of novel (cnidocyte-specific) traits and the inhibition of ancestral (neural) traits during cnidocyte development and that this gene arose by domain shuffling in the stem cnidarian. Thus, we report a mechanism by which a truly novel regulatory gene (ZNF845) promotes the development of a truly novel cell type (cnidocyte) through duplication of an ancestral cell lineage (neuron) and inhibition of its ancestral identity (RFamide).
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. INTRODUCTION Neurons are by far the most diverse of all cell types in animals, to the extent that “cell types” in mammalian brains are still mostly heterogeneous groups, and there is no consensus definition of the term. The Drosophila optic lobes, with approximately 200 well-defined cell types, provides a tractable system with which to address the genetic basis of neuronal type diversity. We previously characterized the distinct developmental gene expression program of each of these types using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), with one-to-one correspondence to the known morphological types. RATIONALE The identity of fly neurons is determined by temporal and spatial patterning mechanisms in stem cell progenitors, but it remained unclear how these cell fate decisions are implemented and maintained in postmitotic neurons. It was proposed in Caenorhabditis elegans that unique combinations of terminal selector transcription factors (TFs) that are continuously expressed in each neuron control nearly all of its type-specific gene expression. This model implies that it should be possible to engineer predictable and complete switches of identity between different neurons just by modifying these sustained TFs. We aimed to test this prediction in the Drosophila visual system. RESULTS Here, we used our developmental scRNA-seq atlases to identify themore »potential terminal selector genes in all optic lobe neurons. We found unique combinations of, on average, 10 differentially expressed and stably maintained (across all stages of development) TFs in each neuron. Through genetic gain- and loss-of-function experiments in postmitotic neurons, we showed that modifications of these selector codes are sufficient to induce predictable switches of identity between various cell types. Combinations of terminal selectors jointly control both developmental (e.g., morphology) and functional (e.g., neurotransmitters and their receptors) features of neurons. The closely related Transmedullary 1 (Tm1), Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons (see the figure) share a similar code of terminal selectors, but can be distinguished from each other by three TFs that are continuously and specifically expressed in one of these cell types: Drgx in Tm1, Pdm3 in Tm2, and SoxN in Tm6. We showed that the removal of each of these selectors in these cell types reprograms them to the default Tm4 fate. We validated these conversions using both morphological features and molecular markers. In addition, we performed scRNA-seq to show that ectopic expression of pdm3 in Tm4 and Tm6 neurons converts them to neurons with transcriptomes that are nearly indistinguishable from that of wild-type Tm2 neurons. We also show that Drgx expression in Tm1 neurons is regulated by Klumpfuss, a TF expressed in stem cells that instructs this fate in progenitors, establishing a link between the regulatory programs that specify neuronal fates and those that implement them. We identified an intronic enhancer in the Drgx locus whose chromatin is specifically accessible in Tm1 neurons and in which Klu motifs are enriched. Genomic deletion of this region knocked down Drgx expression specifically in Tm1 neurons, leaving it intact in the other cell types that normally express it. We further validated this concept by demonstrating that ectopic expression of Vsx (visual system homeobox) genes in Mi15 neurons not only converts them morphologically to Dm2 neurons, but also leads to the loss of their aminergic identity. Our results suggest that selector combinations can be further sculpted by receptor tyrosine kinase signaling after neurogenesis, providing a potential mechanism for postmitotic plasticity of neuronal fates. Finally, we combined our transcriptomic datasets with previously generated chromatin accessibility datasets to understand the mechanisms that control brain wiring downstream of terminal selectors. We built predictive computational models of gene regulatory networks using the Inferelator framework. Experimental validations of these networks revealed how selectors interact with ecdysone-responsive TFs to activate a large and specific repertoire of cell surface proteins and other effectors in each neuron at the onset of synapse formation. We showed that these network models can be used to identify downstream effectors that mediate specific cellular decisions during circuit formation. For instance, reduced levels of cut expression in Tm2 neurons, because of its negative regulation by pdm3 , controls the synaptic layer targeting of their axons. Knockdown of cut in Tm1 neurons is sufficient to redirect their axons to the Tm2 layer in the lobula neuropil without affecting other morphological features. CONCLUSION Our results support a model in which neuronal type identity is primarily determined by a relatively simple code of continuously expressed terminal selector TFs in each cell type throughout development. Our results provide a unified framework of how specific fates are initiated and maintained in postmitotic neurons and open new avenues to understanding synaptic specificity through gene regulatory networks. The conservation of this regulatory logic in both C. elegans and Drosophila makes it likely that the terminal selector concept will also be useful in understanding and manipulating the neuronal diversity of mammalian brains. Terminal selectors enable predictive cell fate reprogramming. Tm1, Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons of the Drosophila visual system share a core set of TFs continuously expressed by each cell type (simplified). The default Tm4 fate is overridden by the expression of a single additional terminal selector to generate Tm1 ( Drgx ), Tm2 ( pdm3 ), or Tm6 ( SoxN ) fates.« less
  2. Although specialized mechanosensory cells are found across animal phylogeny, early evolutionary histories of mechanoreceptor development remain enigmatic. Cnidaria (e.g. sea anemones and jellyfishes) is the sister group to well-studied Bilateria (e.g. flies and vertebrates), and has two mechanosensory cell types - a lineage-specific sensory-effector known as the cnidocyte, and a classical mechanosensory neuron referred to as the hair cell. While developmental genetics of cnidocytes is increasingly understood, genes essential for cnidarian hair cell development are unknown. Here we show that the class IV POU homeodomain transcription factor (POU-IV) - an indispensable regulator of mechanosensory cell differentiation in Bilateria and cnidocyte differentiation in Cnidaria - controls hair cell development in the sea anemone cnidarian Nematostella vectensis. N. vectensis POU-IV is postmitotically expressed in tentacular hair cells, and is necessary for development of the apical mechanosensory apparatus, but not of neurites, in hair cells. Moreover, it binds to deeply conserved DNA recognition elements, and turns on a unique set of effector genes - including the transmembrane-receptor-encoding gene polycystin 1 - specifically in hair cells. Our results suggest that POU-IV directs differentiation of cnidarian hair cells and cnidocytes via distinct gene regulatory mechanisms, and support an evolutionarily ancient role for POU-IV in definingmore »the mature state of mechanosensory neurons.« less
  3. Abstract

    Transitioning from pluripotency to differentiated cell fates is fundamental to both embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis. Improving our understanding of this transition would facilitate our ability to manipulate pluripotent cells into tissues for therapeutic use. Here, we show that membrane voltage (Vm) regulates the exit from pluripotency and the onset of germ layer differentiation in the embryo, a process that affects both gastrulation and left-right patterning. By examining candidate genes of congenital heart disease and heterotaxy, we identifyKCNH6, a member of the ether-a-go-go class of potassium channels that hyperpolarizes the Vmand thus limits the activation of voltage gated calcium channels, lowering intracellular calcium. In pluripotent embryonic cells, depletion ofkcnh6leads to membrane depolarization, elevation of intracellular calcium levels, and the maintenance of a pluripotent state at the expense of differentiation into ectodermal and myogenic lineages. Using high-resolution temporal transcriptome analysis, we identify the gene regulatory networks downstream of membrane depolarization and calcium signaling and discover that inhibition of the mTOR pathway transitions the pluripotent cell to a differentiated fate. By manipulating Vmusing a suite of tools, we establish a bioelectric pathway that regulates pluripotency in vertebrates, including human embryonic stem cells.

  4. Abstract

    Auxin is a hormone that is required for hypocotyl elongation during seedling development. In response to auxin, rapid changes in transcript and protein abundance occur in hypocotyls, and some auxin responsive gene expression is linked to hypocotyl growth. To functionally validate proteomic studies, a reverse genetics screen was performed on mutants in auxin‐regulated proteins to identify novel regulators of plant growth. This uncovered a long hypocotyl mutant, which we calledslim shady, in an annotated insertion line inIMMUNOREGULATORY RNA‐BINDING PROTEIN(IRR). Overexpression of theIRRgene failed to rescue theslim shadyphenotype and characterization of a second T‐DNA allele of IRR found that it had a wild‐type (WT) hypocotyl length. Theslim shadymutant has an elevated expression of numerous genes associated with the brassinosteroid‐auxin‐phytochrome (BAP) regulatory module compared to WT, including transcription factors that regulate brassinosteroid, auxin, and phytochrome pathways. Additionally,slim shadyseedlings fail to exhibit a strong transcriptional response to auxin. Using whole genome sequence data and genetic complementation analysis with SALK_015201C, we determined that a novel single nucleotide polymorphism inPHYTOCHROME Bwas responsible for theslim shadyphenotype. This is predicted to induce a frameshift and premature stop codon at leucine 1125, within the histidine kinase‐related domain of the carboxy terminus of PHYB, which is required formore »phytochrome signaling and function. Genetic complementation analyses withphyb‐9confirmed thatslim shadyis a mutant allele ofPHYB. This study advances our understanding of the molecular mechanisms in seedling development, by furthering our understanding of how light signaling is linked to auxin‐dependent cell elongation. Furthermore, this study highlights the importance of confirming the genetic identity of research material before attributing phenotypes to known mutations sourced from T‐DNA stocks.

    « less
  5. Abstract

    Vertebrate nervous system function requires glial cells, including myelinating glia that insulate axons and provide trophic support that allows for efficient signal propagation by neurons. In vertebrate peripheral nervous systems, neural crest‐derived glial cells known as Schwann cells (SCs) generate myelin by encompassing and iteratively wrapping membrane around single axon segments. SC gliogenesis and neurogenesis are intimately linked and governed by a complex molecular environment that shapes their developmental trajectory. Changes in this external milieu drive developing SCs through a series of distinct morphological and transcriptional stages from the neural crest to a variety of glial derivatives, including the myelinating sublineage. Cues originate from the extracellular matrix, adjacent axons, and the developing SC basal lamina to trigger intracellular signaling cascades and gene expression changes that specify stages and transitions in SC development. Here, we integrate the findings fromin vitroneuron–glia co‐culture experiments within vivostudies investigating SC development, particularly in zebrafish and mouse, to highlight critical factors that specify SC fate. Ultimately, we connect classic biochemical and mutant studies with modern genetic and visualization tools that have elucidated the dynamics of SC development.

    This article is categorized under:

    Signaling Pathways > Cell Fate Signaling

    Nervous System Development > Vertebrates: Regional Development