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MicroRNAs act sequentially and asymmetrically to control chemosensory laterality in the nematode


Animal microRNAs (miRNAs) are gene regulatory factors that prevent the expression of specific messenger RNA targets by binding to their 3′ untranslated region1,2,3. The Caenorhabditis elegans lsy-6 miRNA (for lateral symmetry defective) is required for the left/right asymmetric expression of guanyl cyclase (gcy) genes in two chemosensory neurons termed ASE left (ASEL) and ASE right (ASER)4,5. The asymmetric expression of these putative chemoreceptors in turn correlates with the functional lateralization of the ASE neurons6. Here we find that a mutation in the die-1 zinc-finger transcription factor disrupts both the chemosensory laterality and left/right asymmetric expression of chemoreceptor genes in the ASE neurons. die-1 controls chemosensory laterality by activating the expression of lsy-6 specifically in ASEL, but not in ASER, where die-1 expression is downregulated through two sites in its 3′ untranslated region. These two sites are complementary to mir-273, a previously uncharacterized miRNA, whose expression is strongly biased towards ASER. Forced bilateral expression of mir-273 in ASEL and ASER causes a loss of asymmetric die-1 expression and ASE laterality. Thus, an inverse distribution of two sequentially acting miRNAs in two bilaterally symmetric neurons controls laterality of the nematode chemosensory system.

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Figure 1: Laterality of ASE neurons is disrupted in ot26 mutant animals.
Figure 2: The zinc-finger transcription factor, DIE-1, is predominantly expressed in ASEL and affects lsy-6 expression.
Figure 4: Gene regulatory cascade in ASEL and ASER.
Figure 3: die-1 regulation by the mir-273 miRNA.


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We thank C. Antonio for the ot100 allele, J.Hardin for die-1 reagents, Q. Chen and S. Narula for expert technical assistance, J. Tien for help with mapping ot26, I. Greenwald for advice, L. Johnston, A. Lanjuin, P. Sengupta, I. Greenwald and F. Slack for reading the manuscript. S.C. was funded by an NIH predoctoral fellowship, R.J.J. by an NSF predoctoral fellowship, and C.F.-J. by a American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship. O.H. was supported by grants from the NIH, the McKnight Foundation and the Irma T.Hirschl Trust.

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Correspondence to Oliver Hobert.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Data

This file contains additional Methods, references and legends to Supplementary (DOC 72 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

ot26 is an allele of the Zn finger transcription factor DIE-1 which acts in ASE to affect gcy gene expression. (JPG 28 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

die-1 controls lim-6 expression. (JPG 27 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

Identification of mir-273 complementary sites and the structure of the mir-273 precursor. (JPG 126 kb)

Supplementary Figure 4

Bilateral expression of mir-273 disrupts ASE laterality. (JPG 32 kb)

Supplementary Table 1 (JPG 32 kb)

Supplementary Table 2 (JPG 18 kb)

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Chang, S., Johnston, R., Frøkjær-Jensen, C. et al. MicroRNAs act sequentially and asymmetrically to control chemosensory laterality in the nematode. Nature 430, 785–789 (2004).

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