During convergent differentiation, multiple developmental lineages produce a highly similar or identical cell type. However, the molecular players that drive convergent differentiation are not known. Here, we show that the C. elegans Forkhead transcription factor UNC-130 is required in only one of three convergent lineages that produce the same glial cell type. UNC-130 acts transiently as a repressor in progenitors and newly-born terminal cells to allow the proper specification of cells related by lineage rather than by cell type. Specification defects correlate with UNC-130:DNA binding, and UNC-130 can be functionally replaced by its human homolog, the neural crest lineage determinant FoxD3. We propose that, in contrast to terminal selectors that activate cell-type specific transcriptional programs in terminally differentiating cells, UNC-130 acts earlier to enable molecularly distinct progenitors to produce equivalent cell types. These findings provide evidence that convergent differentiation involves distinct transcriptional paths leading to the same cell type.
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