The Nuclear Factor I (one) (NFI) family of transcription/replication factors plays essential roles in mammalian gene expression and development and in adenovirus DNA replication. Because of its role in viral DNA replication NFI has long been suspected to function in host DNA synthesis. Determining the requirement for NFI proteins in mammalian DNA replication is complicated by the presence of 4 NFI genes in mice and humans. Loss of individual NFI genes in mice cause defects in brain, lung and tooth development, but the presence of 4 homologous NFI genes raises the issue of redundant roles for NFI genes in DNA replication. No NFI genes are present in bacteria, fungi or plants. However single NFI genes are present in several simple animals including Drosophila and C. elegans, making it possible to test for a requirement for NFI in multicellular eukaryotic DNA replication and development. Here we assess the functions of the single nfi-1 gene in C. elegans.
C. elegans NFI protein (CeNFI) binds specifically to the same NFI-binding site recognized by vertebrate NFIs. nfi-1 encodes alternatively-spliced, maternally-inherited transcripts that are expressed at the single cell stage, during embryogenesis, and in adult muscles, neurons and gut cells. Worms lacking nfi-1 survive but have defects in movement, pharyngeal pumping and egg-laying and have a reduced life-span. Expression of the muscle gene Ce titin is decreased in nfi-1 mutant worms.
NFI gene function is not needed for survival in C. elegans and thus NFI is likely not essential for DNA replication in multi-cellular eukaryotes. The multiple defects in motility, egg-laying, pharyngeal pumping, and reduced lifespan indicate that NFI is important for these processes. Reduction in Ce titin expression could affect muscle function in multiple tissues. The phenotype of nfi-1 null worms indicates that NFI functions in multiple developmental and behavioral systems in C. elegans, likely regulating genes that function in motility, egg-laying, pharyngeal pumping and lifespan maintenance.