The Caenorhabditis elegans T-Box Factor MLS-1 Requires Groucho Co-Repressor Interaction for Uterine Muscle Specification
journal contributionposted on 17.08.2012 by Raymond R. Miller, Peter G. Okkema
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T-box proteins are conserved transcription factors that play crucial roles in development of all metazoans; and, in humans, mutations affecting T-box genes are associated with a variety of congenital diseases and cancers. Despite the importance of this transcription factor family, very little is known regarding how T-box factors regulate gene expression. The Caenorhabditis elegans genome contains 21 T-box genes, and their characterized functions include cell fate specification in a variety of tissues. The C. elegans Tbx1 sub-family member MLS-1 functions during larval development to specify the fate of non-striated uterine muscles; and, in mls-1 mutants, uterine muscles are transformed to a vulval muscle fate. Here we demonstrate that MLS-1 function depends on binding to the Groucho-family co-repressor UNC-37. MLS-1 interacts with UNC-37 via a conserved eh1 motif, and the MLS-1 eh1 motif is necessary for MLS-1 to specify uterine muscle fate. Moreover, unc-37 loss-of-function produces uterine muscle to vulval muscle fate transformation similar to those observed in mls-1 mutants. Based on these results, we conclude that MLS-1 specifies uterine muscle fate by repressing target gene expression, and this function depends on interaction with UNC-37. Moreover, we suggest that MLS-1 shares a common mechanism for transcriptional repression with related T-box factors in other animal phyla.