The nervous system is composed of a wide variety of neurons. A description of the transcriptional profiles of each neuron would yield enormous information about the molecular mechanisms that define morphological or functional characteristics. Here we show that RNA isolation from single neurons is feasible by using an optimized mRNA tagging method. This method extracts transcripts in the target cells by co-immunoprecipitation of the complexes of RNA and epitope-tagged poly(A) binding protein expressed specifically in the cells. With this method and genome-wide microarray, we compared the transcriptional profiles of two functionally different neurons in the main C. elegans gustatory neuron class ASE. Eight of the 13 known subtype-specific genes were successfully detected. Additionally, we identified nine novel genes including a receptor guanylyl cyclase, secreted proteins, a TRPC channel and uncharacterized genes conserved among nematodes, suggesting the two neurons are substantially different than previously thought. The expression of these novel genes was controlled by the previously known regulatory network for subtype differentiation. We also describe unique motif organization within individual gene groups classified by the expression patterns in ASE. Our study paves the way to the complete catalog of the expression profiles of individual C. elegans neurons.
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