The ELT-2 GATA-factor and the global regulation of transcription in the C. elegans intestine

Dev Biol. 2007 Feb 15;302(2):627-45. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.10.024. Epub 2006 Oct 21.


A SAGE library was prepared from hand-dissected intestines from adult Caenorhabditis elegans, allowing the identification of >4000 intestinally-expressed genes; this gene inventory provides fundamental information for understanding intestine function, structure and development. Intestinally-expressed genes fall into two broad classes: widely-expressed "housekeeping" genes and genes that are either intestine-specific or significantly intestine-enriched. Within this latter class of genes, we identified a subset of highly-expressed highly-validated genes that are expressed either exclusively or primarily in the intestine. Over half of the encoded proteins are candidates for secretion into the intestinal lumen to hydrolyze the bacterial food (e.g. lysozymes, amoebapores, lipases and especially proteases). The promoters of this subset of intestine-specific/intestine-enriched genes were analyzed computationally, using both a word-counting method (RSAT oligo-analysis) and a method based on Gibbs sampling (MotifSampler). Both methods returned the same over-represented site, namely an extended GATA-related sequence of the general form AHTGATAARR, which agrees with experimentally determined cis-acting control sequences found in intestine genes over the past 20 years. All promoters in the subset contain such a site, compared to <5% for control promoters; moreover, our analysis suggests that the majority (perhaps all) of genes expressed exclusively or primarily in the worm intestine are likely to contain such a site in their promoters. There are three zinc-finger GATA-type factors that are candidates to bind this extended GATA site in the differentiating C. elegans intestine: ELT-2, ELT-4 and ELT-7. All evidence points to ELT-2 being the most important of the three. We show that worms in which both the elt-4 and the elt-7 genes have been deleted from the genome are essentially wildtype, demonstrating that ELT-2 provides all essential GATA-factor functions in the intestine. The SAGE analysis also identifies more than a hundred other transcription factors in the adult intestine but few show an RNAi-induced loss-of-function phenotype and none (other than ELT-2) show a phenotype primarily in the intestine. We thus propose a simple model in which the ELT-2 GATA factor directly participates in the transcription of all intestine-specific/intestine-enriched genes, from the early embryo through to the dying adult. Other intestinal transcription factors would thus modulate the action of ELT-2, depending on the worm's nutritional and physiological needs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • GATA Transcription Factors / genetics
  • GATA Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • ELT-2 protein, C elegans
  • GATA Transcription Factors