A single gene target of an ETS-family transcription factor determines neuronal CO2-chemosensitivity

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e34014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034014. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


Many animals possess neurons specialized for the detection of carbon dioxide (CO(2)), which acts as a cue to elicit behavioral responses and is also an internally generated product of respiration that regulates animal physiology. In many organisms how such neurons detect CO(2) is poorly understood. We report here a mechanism that endows C. elegans neurons with the ability to detect CO(2). The ETS-5 transcription factor is necessary for the specification of CO(2)-sensing BAG neurons. Expression of a single ETS-5 target gene, gcy-9, which encodes a receptor-type guanylate cyclase, is sufficient to bypass a requirement for ets-5 in CO(2)-detection and transforms neurons into CO(2)-sensing neurons. Because ETS-5 and GCY-9 are members of gene families that are conserved between nematodes and vertebrates, a similar mechanism might act in the specification of CO(2)-sensing neurons in other phyla.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Binding Sites
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Guanylate Cyclase / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets / physiology
  • Receptors, Guanylate Cyclase-Coupled / genetics
  • Receptors, Guanylate Cyclase-Coupled / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • ETS-5 protein, C elegans
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • GCY-9 protein, C elegans
  • Guanylate Cyclase
  • Receptors, Guanylate Cyclase-Coupled