Although Hox genes specify the differentiation of neuronal subtypes along the anterior-posterior axis, their mode of action is not entirely understood. Using two subtypes of the touch receptor neurons (TRNs) in C. elegans, we found that a "posterior induction" mechanism underlies the Hox control of terminal neuronal differentiation. The anterior subtype maintains a default TRN state, whereas the posterior subtype undergoes further morphological and transcriptional specification induced by the posterior Hox proteins, mainly EGL-5/Abd-B. Misexpression of the posterior Hox proteins transformed the anterior TRN subtype toward a posterior identity both morphologically and genetically. The specification of the posterior subtype requires EGL-5-induced repression of TALE cofactors, which antagonize EGL-5 functions, and the activation of rfip-1, a component of recycling endosomes, which mediates Hox activities by promoting subtype-specific neurite outgrowth. Finally, EGL-5 is required for subtype-specific circuit formation by acting in both the sensory neuron and downstream interneuron to promote functional connectivity.
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