Science 1989 Feb 24;243(4894 Pt 1):1027-1033
Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.
The genetic control of neuronal differentiation has been studied by examining mutations that affect the development and function of the six touch receptor neurons of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. By screening for touch-insensitive mutants, it has been possible to identify 18 genes (represented by 417 mutations) that are required at various stages in the developmental program for touch cell differentiation. Two of the genes are needed for the generation of precursors in the touch cell lineages; without the precursors, touch cells are not made. A third gene, mec-3, specifies the differentiation of the touch cells, probably by acting as a transcription factor. The remaining 15 genes are likely targets of mec-3 action; mutants defective in these genes have nonfunctioning, yet differentiated, touch cells. Some of these latter genes are needed for the formation of cell-specific components of the touch cells, such as a set of microtubules that are only found in these cells. The study of the touch genes should help us understand how touch cell fate is determined, how microtubule form is specified, and, perhaps, how mechanical stimuli are transduced.