C. elegans SoxB genes are dispensable for embryonic neurogenesis but required for terminal differentiation of specific neuron types

Development. 2015 Jul 15;142(14):2464-77. doi: 10.1242/dev.125740. Epub 2015 Jul 7.


Neurogenesis involves deeply conserved patterning molecules, such as the proneural basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors. Sox proteins and specifically members of the SoxB and SoxC groups are another class of conserved transcription factors with an important role in neuronal fate commitment and differentiation in various species. In this study, we examine the expression of all five Sox genes of the nematode C. elegans and analyze the effect of null mutant alleles of all members of the SoxB and SoxC groups on nervous system development. Surprisingly, we find that, unlike in other systems, neither of the two C. elegans SoxB genes sox-2 (SoxB1) and sox-3 (SoxB2), nor the sole C. elegans SoxC gene sem-2, is broadly expressed throughout the embryonic or adult nervous system and that all three genes are mostly dispensable for embryonic neurogenesis. Instead, sox-2 is required to maintain the developmental potential of blast cells that are generated in the embryo but divide only postembryonically to give rise to differentiated neuronal cell types. Moreover, sox-2 and sox-3 have selective roles in the terminal differentiation of specific neuronal cell types. Our findings suggest that the common themes of SoxB gene function across phylogeny lie in specifying developmental potential and, later on, in selectively controlling terminal differentiation programs of specific neuron types, but not in broadly controlling neurogenesis.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; Neurogenesis; Sox genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • SOXC Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transgenes


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors
  • SOXC Transcription Factors