Phenotypic convergence in the brain: distinct transcription factors regulate common terminal neuronal characters
Transcription factors regulate the molecular, morphological, and physiological characters of neurons and generate their impressive cell type diversity. To gain insight into general principles that govern how transcription factors regulate cell type diversity, we used large-scale single-cell mRNA sequencing to characterize the extensive cellular diversity in the Drosophila optic lobes. We sequenced 55,000 single optic lobe neurons and glia and assigned them to 52 clusters of transcriptionally distinct single cells. We validated the clustering and annotated many of the clusters using RNA sequencing of characterized FACS-sorted single cell types, as well as marker genes specific to given clusters. To identify transcription factors responsible for inducing specific terminal differentiation features, we used machine-learning to generate a "random forest" model. The predictive power of the model was confirmed by showing that two transcription factors expressed specifically in cholinergic (apterous) and glutamatergic (traffic-jam) neurons are necessary for the expression of ChAT and VGlut in many, but not all, cholinergic or glutamatergic neurons, respectively. We used a transcriptome-wide approach to show that the same terminal characters, including but not restricted to neurotransmitter identity, can be regulated by different transcription factors in different cell types, arguing for extensive phenotypic convergence. Our data provide a deep understanding of the developmental and functional specification of a complex brain structure.
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