The O/E family of rHLH transcription factors has been implicated in neurogenesis, axonal pathfinding, muscle formation and B cell maturation. The murine O/E proteins are expressed transiently in the developing CNS and PNS during times of axonogenesis and are expressed in olfactory neurons throughout development where they may regulate components of the olfactory signaling cascade. We have identified a C. elegans O/E homologue (CeO/E) that is encoded by the unc-3
locus. Unc-3 mutants display an uncoordinated phenotype attributed to a severe defasiculation and miswiring of the ventral cord (VNC). Using a GFP fusion to the unc-3
promoter and specific antibodies, we observed that CeO/E is expressed transiently in the excitatory VNC motor neurons and throughout development in a pair of chemosensory neurons (ASI amphid neurons). Several observations suggest that the protein may have distinct roles in the two cell types. Although the axonal and dendritic projections of the ASI appear to be normal when labeled with DiI, unc-3
mutants enter the dauer pathway under inappropriate conditions. Although CeO/E possesses highly conserved domains associated with DNA binding in the mammalian homologue, identification of DNA binding sites for the C. elegans protein has not been achieved. We have shown that CeO/E protein can homodimerize in vitro, although the DNA binding specificity of CeO/E is distinct from the mammalian O/E proteins. Several unc-3
target genes ( daf-7
) have been identified by other laboratories and each contains a mammalian binding site in the promoter region. Remarkably, we have been unable to demonstrate CeO/E binding at these sites. We are generating chimeras of O/E-1 and CeO/E to understand the DNA binding specificity of the CeO/E protein and utilizing a yeast-2-hybrid screen with both O/E-1 and CeO/E to identify interacting proteins in C. elegans . These studies should reveal the mechanism of CeO/E transcriptional activation and target gene regulation.