Transcription factors control neuronal differentiation by acting as "terminal selectors" that determine the specific cell fates of different types of neurons. The specification of cell fate, however, requires high fidelity, which relies on stable and robust expression of the terminal selectors. Our recent studies in C. elegans suggest that a second set of transcription factors function as reinforcing or protecting factors to stabilize the expression and activity of terminal selectors. Some serve as "guarantors" to ensure the activation and continuous expression of the selectors by reducing stochastic fluctuations in gene expression; others safeguard the protein function of selectors by repressing inhibitors that would block their activity. These transcription factors, unlike the terminal selectors, do not induce specification but secure neuronal cell fate and provide reliability in differentiation.
Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; Cell fate; Hox genes; LIM domain proteins; Neuronal differentiation; Terminal selectors; Touch receptor neurons; Transcriptional guarantors; Variability and robustness in gene expression.
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