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Detection of broadly expressed neuronal genes in C. elegans
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The genes that are expressed in most or all types of neurons define generic neuronal features and provide a window into the developmental origin and function of the nervous system. Few such genes (sometimes referred to as pan-neuronal or broadly expressed neuronal genes) have been defined to date and the mechanisms controlling their regulation are not well understood. As a first step in investigating their regulation, we used a computational approach to detect sequences overrepresented in their promoter elements. We identified a ten-nucleotide cis-regulatory motif shared by many broadly expressed neuronal genes and demonstrated that it is involved in control of neuronal expression. Our results further suggest that global and cell-type-specific controls likely act in concert to establish pan-neuronal gene expression. Using the newly discovered motif and genome-level gene expression data, we identified a set of 234 candidate broadly expressed genes. The known involvement of many of these genes in neurogenesis and physiology of the nervous system supports the utility of this set for future targeted analyses.