Lineage-specific control of convergent differentiation by a Forkhead repressor

ABSTRACT

During convergent differentiation, multiple developmental lineages produce a highly similar or identical cell type. However, few molecular players that drive convergent differentiation are known. Here, we show that the C. elegans Forkhead transcription factor UNC-130 is required in only one of three convergent lineages that produce the same glial cell type. UNC-130 acts transiently as a repressor in progenitors and newly-born terminal cells to allow the proper specification of cells related by lineage rather than by cell type or function. Specification defects correlate with UNC-130:DNA binding, and UNC-130 can be functionally replaced by its human homolog, the neural crest lineage determinant FoxD3. We propose that, in contrast to terminal selectors that activate cell type-specific transcriptional programs in terminally differentiating cells, UNC-130 acts early and specifically in one convergent lineage to produce a cell type that also arises from molecularly distinct progenitors in other lineages.