An innexin-dependent cell network establishes left-right neuronal asymmetry in C. elegans.
Gap junctions are widespread in immature neuronal circuits, but their functional significance is poorly understood. We show here that a transient network formed by the innexin gap-junction protein NSY-5 coordinates left-right asymmetry in the developing nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans. nsy-5 is required for the left and right AWC olfactory neurons to establish stochastic, asymmetric patterns of gene expression during embryogenesis. nsy-5-dependent gap junctions in the embryo transiently connect the AWC cell bodies with those of numerous other neurons. Both AWCs and several other classes of nsy-5-expressing neurons participate in signaling that coordinates left-right AWC asymmetry. The right AWC can respond to nsy-5 directly, but the left AWC requires nsy-5 function in multiple cells of the network. NSY-5 forms hemichannels and intercellular gap-junction channels in Xenopus oocytes, consistent with a combination of cell-intrinsic and network functions. These results provide insight into gap-junction activity in developing circuits.