The molecular mechanisms that control the timing of sexual differentiation in the brain are poorly understood. We found that the timing of sexually dimorphic differentiation of postmitotic, sex-shared neurons in the nervous system of the Caenorhabditis elegans male is controlled by the temporally regulated miRNA let-7 and its target lin-41, a translational regulator. lin-41 acts through lin-29a, an isoform of a conserved Zn finger transcription factor, expressed in a subset of sex-shared neurons only in the male. Ectopic lin-29a is sufficient to impose male-specific features at earlier stages of development and in the opposite sex. The temporal, sexual and spatial specificity of lin-29a expression is controlled intersectionally through the lin-28/let-7/lin-41 heterochronic pathway, sex chromosome configuration and neuron-type-specific terminal selector transcription factors. Two Doublesex-like transcription factors represent additional sex- and neuron-type specific targets of LIN-41 and are regulated in a similar intersectional manner.
Keywords: C. elegans; gene regulation; genetics; neuroscience; sexual differentiation.
© 2019, Pereira et al.