The dendritic processes of nociceptive neurons transduce external signals into neurochemical cues that alert the organism to potentially damaging stimuli. The receptive field for each sensory neuron is defined by its dendritic arbor, but the mechanisms that shape dendritic architecture are incompletely understood. Using the model nociceptor, the PVD neuron in C. elegans, we determined that two types of PVD lateral branches project along the dorsal/ventral axis to generate the PVD dendritic arbor: (1) Pioneer dendrites that adhere to the epidermis, and (2) Commissural dendrites that fasciculate with circumferential motor neuron processes. Previous reports have shown that the LIM homeodomain transcription factor MEC-3 is required for all higher order PVD branching and that one of its targets, the claudin-like membrane protein HPO-30, preferentially promotes outgrowth of pioneer branches. Here, we show that another MEC-3 target, the conserved TFIIA-like zinc finger transcription factor EGL-46, adopts the alternative role of specifying commissural dendrites. The known EGL-46 binding partner, the TEAD transcription factor EGL-44, is also required for PVD commissural branch outgrowth. Double mutants of hpo-30 and egl-44 show strong enhancement of the lateral branching defect with decreased numbers of both pioneer and commissural dendrites. Thus, HPO-30/Claudin and EGL-46/EGL-44 function downstream of MEC-3 and in parallel acting pathways to direct outgrowth of two distinct classes of PVD dendritic branches.
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