In Caenorhabditis elegans males, a row of epidermal precursor cells called seam cells generates a pattern of cuticular alae in anterior body regions and neural sensilla called rays in the posterior. The Hox gene mab-5 is required for two posterior seam cells, V5 and V6, to generate rays. In mab-5 mutant males, V5 and V6 do not generate sensory ray lineages but instead generate lineages that lead to alae. Here we show that two independent regulatory pathways can activate mab-5 expression in the V cells. First, the caudal homolog pal-1 turns on mab-5 in V6 during embryogenesis. Second, a Wnt signaling pathway is capable of activating mab-5 in the V cells during postembryonic development; however, during normal development Wnt signaling is inhibited by signals from neighboring V cells. The inhibition of this Wnt signaling pathway by lateral signals between the V cells limits the number of rays in the animal and also determines the position of the boundary between alae and rays.

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