April 12, 2021

Visualizing the organization and differentiation of the male-specific nervous system of C. elegans

Sex differences in the brain are prevalent throughout the animal kingdom and particularly well appreciated in the nematode C. elegans. While 294 neurons are shared between the two sexes, the nervous system of the male contains an additional 93 male-specific neurons, most of which have received very little attention so far. To make these neurons amenable for future study, we describe here how a multicolor, multipromoter reporter transgene, NeuroPAL, is capable of visualizing the distinct identities of all male specific neurons. We used this tool to visualize and characterize a number of features of the male-specific nervous system. We provide several proofs of concept for using NeuroPAL to identify the sites of expression of gfp-tagged reporter genes. We demonstrate the usage of NeuroPAL for cellular fate analysis by analyzing the effect of removal of developmental patterning genes, including a HOX cluster gene (egl-5), a miRNA (lin-4) and a proneural gene (lin-32/Ato), on neuronal identity acquisition within the male-specific nervous system. We use NeuroPAL and its intrinsic cohort of more than 40 distinct differentiation markers to show that, even though male-specific neurons are generated throughout all four larval stages, they execute their terminal differentiation program in a coordinated manner in the fourth larval stage that is concomitant with male tale retraction. This wave of differentiation couples neuronal maturation programs with the appearance of sexual organs. We call this wave ‘just-in-time’ differentiation by its analogy to the mechanism of ‘just-in-time’ transcription of metabolic pathway genes.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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