We have previously demonstrated that the POU transcription factor CEH-6 is required for driving aqp-8 expression in the C. elegans excretory (canal) cell, an osmotic regulatory organ that is functionally analogous to the kidney. This transcriptional regulation occurs through a CEH-6 binding to a cis-regulatory element called the octamer (ATTTGCAT), which is located in the aqp-8 promoter.
Here, we further characterize octamer driven transcription in C. elegans. First, we analyzed the positional requirements of the octamer. To do so, we assayed the effects on excretory cell expression by placing the octamer within the well-characterized promoter of vit-2. Second, using phylogenetic footprinting between three Caenorhabditis species, we identified a set of 165 genes that contain conserved upstream octamers in their promoters. Third, we used promoter::GFP fusions to examine the expression patterns of 107 of the 165 genes. This analysis demonstrated that conservation of octamers in promoters increases the likelihood that the gene is expressed in the excretory cell. Furthermore, we found that the sequences flanking the octamers may have functional importance. Finally, we altered the octamer using site-directed mutagenesis. Thus, we demonstrated that some nucleotide substitutions within the octamer do not affect the expression pattern of nearby genes, but change their overall expression was changed. Therefore, we have expanded the core octamer to include flanking regions and variants of the motif.
Taken together, we have demonstrated that octamer-containing regions are associated with excretory cell expression of several genes that have putative roles in osmoregulation. Moreover, our analysis of the octamer sequence and its sequence variants could aid in the identification of additional genes that are expressed in the excretory cell and that may also be regulated by CEH-6.