Neuronal cell identity is established during development and must be maintained throughout an animal’s life (Fishell G, Heintz N. Neuron 80: 602–612, 2013). Transcription factors critical for establishing neuronal identity can be required for maintaining it (Deneris ES, Hobert O. Nat Neurosci 17: 899–907, 2014). Posttranscriptional regulation also plays an important role in neuronal differentiation (Bian S, Sun T. Mol Neurobiol 44: 359–373, 2011), but its role in maintaining cell identity is less established. To better understand how posttranscriptional regulation might contribute to cell identity, we examined the proprioceptive neurons in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), a highly specialized sensory neuron class, with well-established properties that distinguish them from other neurons in the ganglion. By conditionally ablating Dicer in mice, using parvalbumin (Pvalb)-driven Cre recombinase, we impaired posttranscriptional regulation in the proprioceptive sensory neuron population. Knockout (KO) animals display a progressive form of ataxia at the beginning of the fourth postnatal week that is accompanied by a cell death within the DRG. Before cell loss, expression profiling shows a reduction of proprioceptor specific genes and an increased expression of nonproprioceptive genes normally enriched in other ganglion neurons. Furthermore, although central connections of these neurons are intact, the peripheral connections to the muscle are functionally impaired. Posttranscriptional regulation is therefore necessary to retain the transcriptional identity and support functional specialization of the proprioceptive sensory neurons.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY We have demonstrated that selectively impairing Dicer in parvalbumin-positive neurons, which include the proprioceptors, triggers behavioral changes, a lack of muscle connectivity, and a loss of transcriptional identity as observed through RNA sequencing. These results suggest that Dicer and, most likely by extension, microRNAs are crucially important for maintaining proprioception. Additionally, this study hints at the larger question of how neurons maintain their functional and molecular specificity.
- cell identity
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