The mechanisms by which functional left/right asymmetry arises in morphologically symmetric nervous systems are poorly understood. Here, we provide a mechanistic framework for how functional asymmetry in a postmitotic neuron pair is specified in C. elegans. A key feature of this mechanism is a temporally separated, two-step activation of the lsy-6 miRNA locus. The lsy-6 locus is first "primed" by chromatin decompaction in the precursor for the left neuron, but not the right neuron, several divisions before the neurons are born. lsy-6 expression is then "boosted" to functionally relevant levels several divisions later in the mother of the left neuron, through the activity of a bilaterally expressed transcription factor that can only activate lsy-6 in the primed neuron. This study shows how cells can become committed during early developmental stages to execute a specific fate much later in development and provides a conceptual framework for understanding the generation of neuronal diversity.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.