The Caenorhabditis elegans spalt-like gene sem-g restricts touch cell fate by repressing the selector Hox gene egl-5 and the effector gene mec-3

Anne S. Toker, Yingqi Teng, Henrique B. Ferreira, Scott W. Emmons, Martin Chalfie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Members of the spalt (sal) gene family encode zinc-finger proteins that are putative tumor suppressors and regulate anteroposterior (AP) patterning, cellular identity, and, possibly, cell cycle progression. The mechanism through which sal genes carry out these functions is unclear. The Caenorhabditis elegans sal gene sem-4 controls the fate of several different cell types, including neurons, muscle and hypodermis. Mutation of sem-4 transforms particular tail neurons into touch-neuron-like cells. In wild-type C. elegans, six touch receptor neurons mediate the response of the worm to gentle touch. All six touch neurons normally express the LIM homeobox gene mec-3. A subset, the two PLM cells, also express the Hox gene egl-5, an Abdominal-B homolog, which we find is required for correct mec-3 expression in these cells. The abnormal touch-neuron-like-cells in sem-4 animals express mec-3; we show that a subset also express egl-5. We report: (1) that ectopic expression of sem-4 in normal touch cells represses mec-3 expression and reduces touch cell function; (2) that egl-5 expression is required for both the fate of normal PLM touch neurons in wild-type animals and the fate of a subset of abnormal touch neurons in sem-4 animals, and (3) that SEM-4 specifically binds a shared motif in the mec-3 and egl-5 promoters that mediates repression of these genes in cells in the tail. We conclude that sem-4 represses egl-5 and mec-3 through direct interaction with regulatory sequences in the promoters of these genes, that sem-4 indirectly modulates mec-3 expression through its repression of egl-5 and that this negative regulation is required for proper determination of neuronal fates. We suggest that the mechanism and targets of regulation by sem-4 are conserved throughout the sal gene family: other sal genes might regulate patterning and cellular identity through direct repression of Hox selector genes and effector genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3831-3840
Number of pages10
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • AP patterning
  • Hox
  • LIM homeodomain
  • Repressor
  • Spalt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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