Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) of the Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) nervous system offers the unique opportunity to obtain a partial expression profile for each neuron within a known connectome. Building on recent scRNA-seq data and on a molecular atlas describing the expression pattern of ~800 genes at the single cell resolution, we designed an iterative clustering analysis aiming to match each cell-cluster to the ~100 anatomically defined neuron classes of C. elegans. This heuristic approach successfully assigned 58 clusters to their corresponding neuron class. Another 11 clusters grouped neuron classes sharing close molecular signatures and 7 clusters were not assigned. Based on these 76 molecular profiles, we designed 15 new neuron class-specific promoters validated in vivo. Amongst them, 10 represent the only specific promoter reported to this day, expanding the list of neurons amenable to genetic manipulations. Finally, we observed a differential expression of functionally relevant genes between sensory-, inter-, and motor neurons in C. elegans, suggesting the mode of functional diversification may vary accordingly to the neuronal modalities.
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