The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor Twist plays a role in mesodermal development in both invertebrates and vertebrates. In an effort to understand the role of the unique Caenorhabditis elegans Twist homolog, hlh-8, we analyzed mesodermal development in animals with a deletion in the hlh-8 locus. This deletion was predicted to represent a null allele because the HLH domain is missing and the reading frame for the protein is disrupted. Animals lacking CeTwist function were constipated and egg-laying defective. Both of these defects were rescued in transgenic mutant animals expressing wild-type hlh-8. Observing a series of mesoderm-specific markers allowed us to characterize the loss of hlh-8 function more thoroughly. Our results demonstrate that CeTwist performs an essential role in the proper development of a subset of mesodermal tissues in C. elegans. We found that CeTwist was required for the formation of three out of the four non-striated enteric muscles born in the embryo. In contrast, CeTwist was not required for the formation of the embryonically derived striated muscles. Most of the post-embryonic mesoderm develops from a single lineage. CeTwist was necessary for appropriate patterning in this lineage and was required for expression of two downstream target genes, but was not required for the expression of myosin, a marker of differentiation. Our results suggest that mesodermal patterning by Twist is an evolutionarily conserved function.

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