NvPOU4/Brain3 Functions as a Terminal Selector Gene in the Nervous System of the Cnidarian Nematostella vectensis

Cell Rep. 2020 Mar 31;30(13):4473-4489.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.03.031.


Terminal selectors are transcription factors that control the morphological, physiological, and molecular features that characterize distinct cell types. Here, we show that, in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, NvPOU4 is expressed in post-mitotic cells that give rise to a diverse set of neural cell types, including cnidocytes and NvElav1-expressing neurons. Morphological analyses of NvPOU4 mutants crossed to transgenic reporter lines show that the loss of NvPOU4 does not affect the initial specification of neural cells. Transcriptomes derived from the mutants and from different neural cell populations reveal that NvPOU4 is required for the execution of the terminal differentiation program of these neural cells. These findings suggest that POU4 genes have ancient functions as terminal selectors for morphologically and functionally disparate types of neurons and they provide experimental support for the relevance of terminal selectors for understanding the evolution of cell types.

Keywords: Brn3; CRISPR mutant; Cnidaria; POU genes; Unc-86; cell type evolution; cnidocytes; neurogenesis; terminal selector; transgenic reporter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastula / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Glutamates / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Sea Anemones / cytology
  • Sea Anemones / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Transgenes


  • Glutamates
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Transcription Factors
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins