Published on Wed Sep 15 2021

Forkhead transcription factor FKH-8 is a master regulator of primary cilia in C. elegans

Brocal-Ruiz, R., Esteve-Serrano, A., Mora-Martinez, C., Tena, J., Flames, N.

Cilia, either motile or non-motile, are complex evolutionary conserved eukaryotic structures. Proper cilium function requires the tight coregulation of ciliome gene transcription. Ciliome mutations underlie a group of pleiotropic genetic diseases known as ciliopathies.

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Abstract

Cilia, either motile or non-motile (a.k.a primary or sensory), are complex evolutionary conserved eukaryotic structures composed of hundreds of proteins required for their assembly, structure and function that are collectively known as the ciliome. Ciliome mutations underlie a group of pleiotropic genetic diseases known as ciliopathies. Proper cilium function requires the tight coregulation of ciliome gene transcription, which is only fragmentarily understood. RFX transcription factors (TF) have an evolutionarily conserved role in the direct activation of ciliome genes both in motile and non-motile cilia cell types. In vertebrates, FoxJ1 and FoxN4 Forkhead (FKH) TFs work with RFX in the direct activation of ciliome genes, exclusively in motile cilia cell-types. No additional TFs have been described to act together with RFX in primary cilia cell-types in any organism. Here we describe FKH-8, a FKH TF, as master regulator of the primary ciliome in Caenorhabditis elegans. fkh-8 is expressed in all ciliated neurons in C. elegans, binds the regulatory regions of ciliome genes, regulates ciliome gene expression, cilium morphology and a wide range of behaviours mediated by sensory cilia. Importantly, we find FKH-8 function can be replaced by mouse FOXJ1 and FOXN4 but not by members of other mouse FKH subfamilies. In conclusion, our results show that RFX and FKH TF families act as master regulators of ciliogenesis also in sensory ciliated cell types and suggest that this regulatory logic could be an ancient trait predating functional cilia sub-specialization.