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1.  Functional modularity of nuclear hormone receptors in a Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene regulatory network 
We present the first gene regulatory network (GRN) that pertains to post-developmental gene expression. Specifically, we mapped a transcription regulatory network of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene promoters using gene-centered yeast one-hybrid assays. We found that the metabolic GRN is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks, and that these NHRs organize into functional network modules.The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes; C. elegans has 284 NHRs, whereas humans have only 48. We show that the NHRs in the metabolic GRN have metabolic phenotypes, suggesting that they do not simply function redundantly.The mediator subunit MDT-15 preferentially interacts with NHRs that occur in the metabolic GRN.We describe an NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability and propose a model for the evolution and organization of NHRs in C. elegans metabolic regulatory networks.
Physical and/or regulatory interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their target genes are essential to establish body plans of multicellular organisms during development, and these interactions have been studied extensively in the context of GRNs. The precise control of differential gene expression is also of critical importance to maintain physiological homeostasis, and many metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes coincide with substantial changes in gene expression. Much work has focused on the GRNs that control metazoan development; however, the design principles and organization of the GRNs that control systems physiology remain largely unexplored.
In this study, we present the first gene-centered GRN that includes ∼70 genes involved in C. elegans metabolism and physiology, 100 TFs and more than 500 protein–DNA interactions between them. The resulting metabolic GRN is enriched for NHRs, compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks. NHRs are well-known regulators of lipid meta-qj;bolism in mammals. The transcriptional activity of NHRs can be modified by diffusible ligands, which allows these TFs to function as molecular sensors and rapidly alter the expression of their target genes. Interestingly, NHRs comprise the largest family of TFs in nematodes; the C. elegans genome encodes 284 NHRs, most of which are uncharacterized. Furthermore, their organization in GRNs has not yet been investigated. In our study, we show that the C. elegans NHRs that we retrieved in the metabolic GRN organize into network modules, and that most of these NHRs function to maintain lipid homeostasis in the nematode. Interestingly, network modularity has been proposed to facilitate rapid and robust changes in gene expression. Our results suggest that the C. elegans metabolic GRN may have evolved by combining NHR family expansion with the specific modular wiring of NHRs to enable the rapid adaptation of the animal to different environmental cues.
NHRs can interact with transcriptional cofactors such as chromatin remodeling complexes and Mediator components. For instance, the C. elegans Mediator subunit, MDT-15, can interact with NHR-49 to regulate the expression of its target genes. To find all the TFs that MDT-15 can interact with, we performed systematic yeast two-hybrid assays with MDT-15 versus 755 full-length TFs. We found that MDT-15 preferentially associates with NHRs, and specifically with those NHRs that confer a metabolic phenotype and that occur in the metabolic GRN. This illustrates the central role of MDT-15 in the regulation of metabolic gene expression.
Using a variety of genetic and biochemical approaches, we characterized NHR-86 in more detail. NHR-86 participates in one of the two NHR modules, and has a high-flux capacity; that is it has both a high incoming and a high outgoing degree. We obtained an nhr-86 mutant and generated an NHR-86 antibody, and showed that NHR-86 functions as an auto-repressor in vivo and that nhr-86 mutant animals store abnormally high levels of body fat.
Finally, we discovered a novel NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability. In this circuit NHR-45 regulates the activity of nhr-178 promoter in two distinct physiologically important tissues: the intestine and the hypodermis. Both of these NHRs are required to maintain lipid homeostasis in C. elegans. The expression of nhr-178 is responsive to the nutritional status of the animal, which switches between ON and OFF states in the hypodermis. We found that NHR-45 activity is necessary to control this switch in the hypodermis. Interestingly, NHR-45 has opposite effects on the activity of the nhr-178 promoter in these tissues: NHR-45 activates this promoter in the intestine, but represses it in the hypodermis.
Altogether our study leads to a model in which the expansion of the NHR family, TFs that have the capacity to act as fast molecular sensors, is combined with a modular network organization to enable rapid and robust responses to various environmental cues.
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) provide insights into the mechanisms of differential gene expression at a systems level. GRNs that relate to metazoan development have been studied extensively. However, little is still known about the design principles, organization and functionality of GRNs that control physiological processes such as metabolism, homeostasis and responses to environmental cues. In this study, we report the first experimentally mapped metazoan GRN of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic genes. This network is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs). The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes: humans have 48 NHRs, but C. elegans has 284, most of which are uncharacterized. We find that the C. elegans metabolic GRN is highly modular and that two GRN modules predominantly consist of NHRs. Network modularity has been proposed to facilitate a rapid response to different cues. As NHRs are metabolic sensors that are poised to respond to ligands, this suggests that C. elegans GRNs evolved to enable rapid and adaptive responses to different cues by a concurrence of NHR family expansion and modular GRN wiring.
PMCID: PMC2890327  PMID: 20461074
C. elegans; gene regulatory network; metabolism; nuclear hormone receptor; transcription factor
2.  Coordinate Regulation of Lipid Metabolism by Novel Nuclear Receptor Partnerships 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(4):e1002645.
Mammalian nuclear receptors broadly influence metabolic fitness and serve as popular targets for developing drugs to treat cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. However, the molecular mechanisms and regulatory pathways that govern lipid metabolism remain poorly understood. We previously found that the Caenorhabditis elegans nuclear hormone receptor NHR-49 regulates multiple genes in the fatty acid beta-oxidation and desaturation pathways. Here, we identify additional NHR-49 targets that include sphingolipid processing and lipid remodeling genes. We show that NHR-49 regulates distinct subsets of its target genes by partnering with at least two other distinct nuclear receptors. Gene expression profiles suggest that NHR-49 partners with NHR-66 to regulate sphingolipid and lipid remodeling genes and with NHR-80 to regulate genes involved in fatty acid desaturation. In addition, although we did not detect a direct physical interaction between NHR-49 and NHR-13, we demonstrate that NHR-13 also regulates genes involved in the desaturase pathway. Consistent with this, gene knockouts of these receptors display a host of phenotypes that reflect their gene expression profile. Our data suggest that NHR-80 and NHR-13's modulation of NHR-49 regulated fatty acid desaturase genes contribute to the shortened lifespan phenotype of nhr-49 deletion mutant animals. In addition, we observed that nhr-49 animals had significantly altered mitochondrial morphology and function, and that distinct aspects of this phenotype can be ascribed to defects in NHR-66– and NHR-80–mediated activities. Identification of NHR-49's binding partners facilitates a fine-scale dissection of its myriad regulatory roles in C. elegans. Our findings also provide further insights into the functions of the mammalian lipid-sensing nuclear receptors HNF4α and PPARα.
Author Summary
Mammalian nuclear receptors are actively targeted for treatment of a range of cardiovascular diseases and obesity. However, effective drug development still depends on a more exhaustive characterization of how different nuclear receptors mediate their different physiological effects in vivo. Taking advantage of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, we used a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to characterize the gene network of the nuclear receptor NHR-49 and to explore the impact of the different target genes on physiology. This work has identified genes and pathways that were not previously known to be regulated by NHR-49. Importantly, we identified NHR-49 co-factors NHR-66 and NHR-80 that regulate specific subsets of NHR-49 target genes and that contribute to distinct phenotypes of nhr-49 animals. Taken together, our findings in C. elegans not only provide novel insights into how nuclear receptor transcriptional networks coordinate to regulate lipid metabolism, but also reveal the breadth of their influence on different aspects of animal physiology.
PMCID: PMC3325191  PMID: 22511885
3.  Sumoylated NHR-25/NR5A Regulates Cell Fate during C. elegans Vulval Development 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003992.
Individual metazoan transcription factors (TFs) regulate distinct sets of genes depending on cell type and developmental or physiological context. The precise mechanisms by which regulatory information from ligands, genomic sequence elements, co-factors, and post-translational modifications are integrated by TFs remain challenging questions. Here, we examine how a single regulatory input, sumoylation, differentially modulates the activity of a conserved C. elegans nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-25, in different cell types. Through a combination of yeast two-hybrid analysis and in vitro biochemistry we identified the single C. elegans SUMO (SMO-1) as an NHR-25 interacting protein, and showed that NHR-25 is sumoylated on at least four lysines. Some of the sumoylation acceptor sites are in common with those of the NHR-25 mammalian orthologs SF-1 and LRH-1, demonstrating that sumoylation has been strongly conserved within the NR5A family. We showed that NHR-25 bound canonical SF-1 binding sequences to regulate transcription, and that NHR-25 activity was enhanced in vivo upon loss of sumoylation. Knockdown of smo-1 mimicked NHR-25 overexpression with respect to maintenance of the 3° cell fate in vulval precursor cells (VPCs) during development. Importantly, however, overexpression of unsumoylatable alleles of NHR-25 revealed that NHR-25 sumoylation is critical for maintaining 3° cell fate. Moreover, SUMO also conferred formation of a developmental time-dependent NHR-25 concentration gradient across the VPCs. That is, accumulation of GFP-tagged NHR-25 was uniform across VPCs at the beginning of development, but as cells began dividing, a smo-1-dependent NHR-25 gradient formed with highest levels in 1° fated VPCs, intermediate levels in 2° fated VPCs, and low levels in 3° fated VPCs. We conclude that sumoylation operates at multiple levels to affect NHR-25 activity in a highly coordinated spatial and temporal manner.
Author Summary
Animals precisely control when and where genes are expressed; failure to do so can cause severe developmental defects and pathology. Transcription factors must display extraordinary functional flexibility, controlling very different sets of genes in different cell and tissue types. To do so, they integrate information from signaling pathways, chromatin, and cofactors to ensure that the correct ensemble of genes is orchestrated in any given context. The number of regulatory inputs, and the complex physiology and large numbers of cell and tissue types in most experimentally tractable metazoans have rendered combinatorial regulation of transcription nearly impenetrable. We used the powerful genetics and simple biology of the model nematode, C. elegans, to examine how a single post-translational modification (sumoylation) affected the activity of a conserved TF (NHR-25) in different cell types during animal development. Our work suggests that sumoylation constrains NHR-25 activity in order to maintain proper cell fate during development of the reproductive organ.
PMCID: PMC3861103  PMID: 24348269
4.  Nuclear Hormone Receptors in Nematodes: Evolution and Function 
Nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) are proteins that regulate gene expression in response to developmental, environmental, and nutritional signals. The activity of some NHRs is selectively and reversibly modulated by small molecular weight compounds. However, for others–termed “orphan” receptors–no such ligands have (yet) been identified, and at least some NHRs may lack natural ligands. NHRs exhibit a stereotyped architecture, with conserved N-terminal DNA-binding domains (DBDs) and more variable C-terminal ligand-binding domains (LBDs). NHRs control the transcription of remarkably diverse and specific gene networks, apparently by integrating multiple regulatory inputs that interact with distinct receptor surfaces; these inputs include small molecule ligands, transcriptional coregulators, and response elements, the genomic sites to which the receptors bind. NHRs comprise an ancient superfamily found in all metazoans, and recent findings have revealed NHR-like regulatory factors in fungi. Here, we consider NHR function and evolution in nematodes, roundworms that inhabit terrestrial, marine, and freshwater habitats; we focus in particular on the well-established experimental organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Interestingly, the C. elegans genome encodes a massively expanded NHR family; we speculate that some of the multiple physiological activities governed by individual mammalian NHRs may be distributed among multiple members of the C. elegans family, potentially focusing and simplifying functional analyses. Accordingly, investigations of relevant NHR cofactors, ligands, and response elements might also prove to be simpler; moreover, the abbreviated intergenic regions of the C. elegans genome will facilitate the assignment of response elements to target genes. Finally, the growing interest in medically relevant nematodes is providing novel insights into the function and evolution of NHRs.
PMCID: PMC3042524  PMID: 20438802
Nuclear Hormone Receptor (NHR); nematode; ligand; coregulator; evolution; C. elegans
5.  Analysis of C. elegans NR2E nuclear receptors defines three conserved clades and ligand-independent functions 
The nuclear receptors (NRs) are an important class of transcription factors that are conserved across animal phyla. Canonical NRs consist of a DNA-binding domain (DBD) and ligand-binding domain (LBD). While most animals have 20–40 NRs, nematodes of the genus Caenorhabditis have experienced a spectacular proliferation and divergence of NR genes. The LBDs of evolutionarily-conserved Caenorhabditis NRs have diverged sharply from their Drosophila and vertebrate orthologs, while the DBDs have been strongly conserved. The NR2E family of NRs play critical roles in development, especially in the nervous system. In this study, we explore the phylogenetics and function of the NR2E family of Caenorhabditis elegans, using an in vivo assay to test LBD function.
Phylogenetic analysis reveals that the NR2E family of NRs consists of three broadly-conserved clades of orthologous NRs. In C. elegans, these clades are defined by nhr-67, fax-1 and nhr-239. The vertebrate orthologs of nhr-67 and fax-1 are Tlx and PNR, respectively. While the nhr-239 clade includes orthologs in insects (Hr83), an echinoderm, and a hemichordate, the gene appears to have been lost from vertebrate lineages. The C. elegans and C. briggsae nhr-239 genes have an apparently-truncated and highly-diverged LBD region. An additional C. elegans NR2E gene, nhr-111, appears to be a recently-evolved paralog of fax-1; it is present in C. elegans, but not C. briggsae or other animals with completely-sequenced genomes. Analysis of the relatively unstudied nhr-111 and nhr-239 genes demonstrates that they are both expressed—nhr-111 very broadly and nhr-239 in a small subset of neurons. Analysis of the FAX-1 LBD in an in vivo assay revealed that it is not required for at least some developmental functions.
Our analysis supports three conserved clades of NR2E receptors, only two of which are represented in vertebrates, indicating three ancestral NR2E genes in the urbilateria. The lack of a requirement for a FAX-1 LBD suggests that the relatively high level of sequence divergence for Caenorhabditis LBDs reflects relaxed selection on the primary sequence as opposed to divergent positive selection. This observation is consistent with a model in which divergence of some Caenorhabditis LBDs is allowed, at least in part, by the absence of a ligand requirement.
PMCID: PMC3517510  PMID: 22690911
6.  Repression of a Potassium Channel by Nuclear Hormone Receptor and TGF-β Signaling Modulates Insulin Signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(2):e1002519.
Transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling acts through Smad proteins to play fundamental roles in cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and metabolism. The Receptor associated Smads (R-Smads) interact with DNA and other nuclear proteins to regulate target gene transcription. Here, we demonstrate that the Caenorhabditis elegans R-Smad DAF-8 partners with the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-69, a C. elegans ortholog of mammalian hepatocyte nuclear factor 4α HNF4α), to repress the exp-2 potassium channel gene and increase insulin secretion. We find that NHR-69 associates with DAF-8 both in vivo and in vitro. Functionally, daf-8 nhr-69 double mutants show defects in neuropeptide secretion and phenotypes consistent with reduced insulin signaling such as increased expression of the sod-3 and gst-10 genes and a longer life span. Expression of the exp-2 gene, encoding a voltage-gated potassium channel, is synergistically increased in daf-8 nhr-69 mutants compared to single mutants and wild-type worms. In turn, exp-2 acts selectively in the ASI neurons to repress the secretion of the insulin-like peptide DAF-28. Importantly, exp-2 mutation shortens the long life span of daf-8 nhr-69 double mutants, demonstrating that exp-2 is required downstream of DAF-8 and NHR-69. Finally, animals over-expressing NHR-69 specifically in DAF-28–secreting ASI neurons exhibit a lethargic, hypoglycemic phenotype that is rescued by exogenous glucose. We propose a model whereby DAF-8/R-Smad and NHR-69 negatively regulate the transcription of exp-2 to promote neuronal DAF-28 secretion, thus demonstrating a physiological crosstalk between TGF-β and HNF4α-like signaling in C. elegans. NHR-69 and DAF-8 dependent regulation of exp-2 and DAF-28 also provides a novel molecular mechanism that contributes to the previously recognized link between insulin and TGF-β signaling in C. elegans.
Author Summary
All animals must ensure metabolic homeostasis; if they fail to do so, diseases such as obesity and diabetes can develop. To maintain glucose balance, insulin is secreted upon glucose intake in a highly regulated and coordinated process. Previous studies suggested that the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) signaling pathway regulates insulin secretion in mammals. In the genetically tractable roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, TGF-β and insulin signaling modulate larval development and aging, although the molecular link between insulin and TGF-β signaling remains poorly understood. In this study, we show that the TGF-β signaling component DAF-8 partners with NHR-69, a nuclear hormone receptor, to control the expression of the potassium channel exp-2, which in turn modulates the secretion of an insulin-like peptide. A loss-of-function exp-2 mutant exhibits increased insulin secretion and a shortened life span, whereas a gain-of-function mutant exhibits decreased insulin secretion. We also show that tissue-specific expression of nhr-69 in a pair of neurons that secrete neuropeptides causes reduced glucose content, increased insulin-like peptide levels and a lethargic phenotype. Because insulin and TGF-β signaling are linked to numerous diseases, our data may provide novel insights into the mechanisms contributing to pathophysiological changes.
PMCID: PMC3280960  PMID: 22359515
7.  Nuclear Hormone Receptor NHR-49 Controls Fat Consumption and Fatty Acid Composition in C. elegans 
PLoS Biology  2005;3(2):e53.
Mammalian nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs), such as liver X receptor, farnesoid X receptor, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), precisely control energy metabolism. Consequently, these receptors are important targets for the treatment of metabolic diseases, including diabetes and obesity. A thorough understanding of NHR fat regulatory networks has been limited, however, by a lack of genetically tractable experimental systems. Here we show that deletion of the Caenorhabditis elegans NHR gene nhr-49 yielded worms with elevated fat content and shortened life span. Employing a quantitative RT-PCR screen, we found that nhr-49 influenced the expression of 13 genes involved in energy metabolism. Indeed, nhr-49 served as a key regulator of fat usage, modulating pathways that control the consumption of fat and maintain a normal balance of fatty acid saturation. We found that the two phenotypes of the nhr-49 knockout were linked to distinct pathways and were separable: The high-fat phenotype was due to reduced expression of enzymes in fatty acid β-oxidation, and the shortened adult life span resulted from impaired expression of a stearoyl-CoA desaturase. Despite its sequence relationship with the mammalian hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 receptor, the biological activities of nhr-49 were most similar to those of the mammalian PPARs, implying an evolutionarily conserved role for NHRs in modulating fat consumption and composition. Our findings in C. elegans provide novel insights into how NHR regulatory networks are coordinated to govern fat metabolism.
Deletion of the Caenorhabditis elegans gene nhr- 49 causes worms to accumulate fat and die younger; but these two phenotypes are a result of distinct and separable pathways
PMCID: PMC547972  PMID: 15719061
8.  Germline Signals Deploy NHR-49 to Modulate Fatty-Acid β-Oxidation and Desaturation in Somatic Tissues of C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004829.
In C. elegans, removal of the germline extends lifespan significantly. We demonstrate that the nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-49, enables the response to this physiological change by increasing the expression of genes involved in mitochondrial β-oxidation and fatty-acid desaturation. The coordinated augmentation of these processes is critical for germline-less animals to maintain their lipid stores and to sustain de novo fat synthesis during adulthood. Following germline ablation, NHR-49 is up-regulated in somatic cells by the conserved longevity determinants DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1. Accordingly, NHR-49 overexpression in fertile animals extends their lifespan modestly. In fertile adults, nhr-49 expression is DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1 independent although its depletion causes age-related lipid abnormalities. Our data provide molecular insights into how reproductive stimuli are integrated into global metabolic changes to alter the lifespan of the animal. They suggest that NHR-49 may facilitate the adaptation to loss of reproductive potential through synchronized enhancement of fatty-acid oxidation and desaturation, thus breaking down some fats ordained for reproduction and orchestrating a lipid profile conducive for somatic maintenance and longevity.
Author Summary
Much is known about how increasing age impairs fertility but we know little about how reproduction influences rate of aging in animals. Studies in model organisms such as worms and flies have begun to shed light on this relationship. In worms, removing germ cells that give rise to sperm and oocytes extends lifespan, increases endurance and elevates fat. Fat metabolism and hormonal signals play major roles in this lifespan augmentation but the genetic mechanisms involved are poorly understood. We show that a gene, nhr-49, enhances worm lifespan following germ-cell removal. NHR-49 is increased in animals that lack germ cells by conserved longevity proteins, DAF-16 and TCER-1. NHR-49, in turn, increases levels of genes that help burn fat and convert saturated fats into unsaturated forms. Through synchronized enhancement of these processes, NHR-49 helps eliminate excess fat delegated for reproduction and converts lipids into forms that favor a long life. NHR-49 impacts these processes during aging in normal animals too, but using different regulatory mechanisms. Our data helps understand how normal lipid metabolic processes can be harnessed to adapt to physiological fluctuations brought on by changes in the reproductive status of animals.
PMCID: PMC4256272  PMID: 25474470
9.  The Role of Nuclear Receptor NHR-64 in Fat Storage Regulation in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9869.
Nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) play vital roles in the regulation of metabolism, reproduction, and development. We found that inactivation of a C. elegans HNF4 homologue nhr-64 by RNA interference (RNAi) suppresses low fat stores in stearoyl-CoA desaturase-deficient fat-6;fat-7 double mutants and sterol regulatory element binding protein (SREBP) sbp-1 mutants. Furthermore, inactivation of nhr-64 improves the growth rate of the fat-6;fat-7and sbp-1 strains. While nhr-64RNAi subtly affects fatty acid composition and fat storage in wild-type C. elegans, its effects on lipid metabolism are most apparent in the background of stearoyl-CoA desaturase or SREBP deficiency. NHR-64 displays transcriptional activating activity when expressed in yeast, and inactivation of nhr-64 affects the expression of at least 14 metabolic genes. Wild-type worms treated with nhr-64 RNAi display increased expression of acetyl-CoA carboxylase as well as increased abundance of de novo synthesized monomethyl branched chain fatty acids, suggesting an increase in fat synthesis. However, reduced expression of the acetyl-CoA synthetase gene acs-2 and an acyl-CoA oxidase gene indicates that a key role of NHR-64 may be to promote fatty acid oxidation in mitochondria and peroxisomes. These studies reveal that NHR-64 is an important regulator of fat storage in C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC2845610  PMID: 20360843
10.  Fatty Acid Desaturation Links Germ Cell Loss to Longevity Through NHR-80/HNF4 in C. elegans 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(3):e1000599.
Lifespan extension induced by germline ablation in C. elegans is regulated by the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-80 in a process that requires the production of oleic acid by activation of the lipid desaturase FAT-6/SCD1.
Preventing germline stem cell proliferation extends lifespan in nematodes and flies. So far, studies on germline-longevity signaling have focused on daf-16/FOXO and daf-12/VDR. Here, we report on NHR-80/HNF4, a nuclear receptor that specifically mediates longevity induced by depletion of the germ line through a mechanism that implicates fatty acid monodesaturation.
Methods and Findings
nhr-80/HNF4 is induced in animals lacking a germ line and is specifically required for their extended longevity. Overexpressing nhr-80/HNF4 increases the lifespan of germline-less animals. This lifespan extension can occur in the absence of daf-16/FOXO but requires the presence of the nuclear receptor DAF-12/VDR. We show that the fatty acid desaturase, FAT-6/SCD1, is a key target of NHR-80/HNF4 and promotes germline-longevity by desaturating stearic acid to oleic acid (OA). We find that NHR-80/HNF4 and OA must work in concert to promote longevity.
Taken together, our data indicate that the NHR-80 pathway participates in the mechanism of longevity extension through depletion of the germ line. We identify fat-6 and OA as essential downstream elements although other targets must also be present. Thus, NHR-80 links fatty acid desaturation to lifespan extension through germline ablation in a daf-16/FOXO independent manner.
Author Summary
Reproduction and aging are two processes that seem to be closely intertwined. Experiments in Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila have shown that depletion of the germ line increases lifespan and that this process depends on insulin and lipophilic-hormone signaling. Recently, it was demonstrated that when germline stem cells (GSCs) cease to proliferate, fat metabolism is altered and this affects longevity. In this study, we have identified a nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-80, that mediates longevity through depletion of the germ line by promoting fatty acid desaturation. The nhr-80 gene is up-regulated at the mRNA and protein levels in germline-less animals, leading to the transcription of the gene, fat-6, and the production of oleic acid (OA). Our experiments also show that the NHR-80/FAT-6/OA pathway does not require the presence of DAF-16 but instead, depends fully on the presence of DAF-12, a steroid receptor that affects lifespan. We provide evidence that other NHR-80 targets must be present concomitantly. Our results reinforce the notion that fat metabolism is profoundly altered in response to GSC proliferation, and the data contribute to a better understanding of the molecular relationship between reproduction, fat metabolism, and aging.
PMCID: PMC3057950  PMID: 21423649
11.  NHR-23 dependent collagen and hedgehog-related genes required for molting 
NHR-23, a conserved member of the nuclear receptor family of transcription factors, is required for normal development in C. elegans where it plays a critical role in growth and molting. In a search for NHR-23 dependent genes, we performed whole genome comparative expression microarrays on both control and nhr-23 inhibited synchronized larvae. Genes that decreased in response to nhr-23 RNAi included several collagen genes. Unexpectedly, several hedgehog-related genes were also down-regulated after nhr-23 RNAi. A homozygous nhr-23 deletion allele was used to confirm the RNAi knockdown phenotypes and the changes in gene expression. Our results indicate that NHR-23 is a critical co-regulator of functionally linked genes involved in growth and molting and reveal evolutionary parallels among the ecdysozoa.
PMCID: PMC3196369  PMID: 21910973
Nuclear hormone receptor; Caenorhabditis elegans; NHR-23; transcription; gene expression; development; hedgehog; molting; ROR
12.  The Caenorhabditis elegans HNF4α Homolog, NHR-31, Mediates Excretory Tube Growth and Function through Coordinate Regulation of the Vacuolar ATPase 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(7):e1000553.
Nuclear receptors of the Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor-4 (HNF4) subtype have been linked to a host of developmental and metabolic functions in animals ranging from worms to humans; however, the full spectrum of physiological activities carried out by this nuclear receptor subfamily is far from established. We have found that the Caenorhabditis elegans nuclear receptor NHR-31, a homolog of mammalian HNF4 receptors, is required for controlling the growth and function of the nematode excretory cell, a multi-branched tubular cell that acts as the C. elegans renal system. Larval specific RNAi knockdown of nhr-31 led to significant structural abnormalities along the length of the excretory cell canal, including numerous regions of uncontrolled growth at sites near to and distant from the cell nucleus. nhr-31 RNAi animals were sensitive to acute challenge with ionic stress, implying that the osmoregulatory function of the excretory cell was also compromised. Gene expression profiling revealed a surprisingly specific role for nhr-31 in the control of multiple genes that encode subunits of the vacuolar ATPase (vATPase). RNAi of these vATPase genes resulted in excretory cell defects similar to those observed in nhr-31 RNAi animals, demonstrating that the influence of nhr-31 on excretory cell growth is mediated, at least in part, through coordinate regulation of the vATPase. Sequence analysis revealed a stunning enrichment of HNF4α type binding sites in the promoters of both C. elegans and mouse vATPase genes, arguing that coordinate regulation of the vATPase by HNF4 receptors is likely to be conserved in mammals. Our study establishes a new pathway for regulation of excretory cell growth and reveals a novel role for HNF4-type nuclear receptors in the development and function of a renal system.
Author Summary
The function of many important biological structures requires the construction of very complex cellular shapes. For example, mammalian kidneys or related renal systems in other animals rely on the formation of elongated tubes that maximize surface area to facilitate the exchange of ions between the body and excreted fluid. Defects in kidney development or function may lead to kidney failure or polycystic kidney disease. Mechanisms involved in orchestrating the formation and function of the elaborate tube structures in renal systems are still poorly characterized. Here, we show a novel transcription factor involved in the growth and elongation of an excretory tube in C. elegans. This factor helps manage tube development by regulating genes involved in ion transport and membrane fusion, likely helping to balance the growth of the inner and outer portions of the excretory tube as this structure elongates. This transcription factor shares significant homology with a mammalian protein that participates in hormone signaling and is present in the kidney tubules, suggesting that elongation and growth of tube structures may rely on a new kind of hormonal communication that occurs between distant parts of the cell; this signaling mechanism may be important for appropriate kidney development in humans.
PMCID: PMC2720251  PMID: 19668342
13.  Dietary Restriction Induced Longevity Is Mediated by Nuclear Receptor NHR-62 in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003651.
Dietary restriction (DR) extends lifespan in a wide variety of species, yet the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Here we show that the Caenorhabditis elegans HNF4α-related nuclear hormone receptor NHR-62 is required for metabolic and physiologic responses associated with DR-induced longevity. nhr-62 mediates the longevity of eat-2 mutants, a genetic mimetic of dietary restriction, and blunts the longevity response of DR induced by bacterial food dilution at low nutrient levels. Metabolic changes associated with DR, including decreased Oil Red O staining, decreased triglyceride levels, and increased autophagy are partly reversed by mutation of nhr-62. Additionally, the DR fatty acid profile is altered in nhr-62 mutants. Expression profiles reveal that several hundred genes induced by DR depend on the activity of NHR-62, including a putative lipase required for the DR response. This study provides critical evidence of nuclear hormone receptor regulation of the DR longevity response, suggesting hormonal and metabolic control of life span.
Author Summary
Dietary restriction extends the life span of diverse species across taxa, yet the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. In humans there are clear health benefits associated with DR such as improved serum cholesterol and lipid levels. In Caenorhabditis elegans, genes implicated in the TOR pathway, autophagy, protein synthesis and energy homeostasis have been shown to modulate the dietary restriction response; however their mechanism of action is still unclear. In this work, we find that the C. elegans nuclear hormone receptor, nhr-62, is required for longevity in multiple DR regimens, providing the first evidence of a nuclear receptor required for DR-induced longevity. Additionally, nhr-62 is required for physiologic changes associated with DR, including increased autophagy and decreased levels of triglycerides, possibly through lipolysis. Moreover, nhr-62 is responsible for regulating hundreds of genes under DR, as measured by qPCR and RNA-seq. Importantly, this work is the first to report transcriptome analysis of DR in C. elegans and the first to provide functional evidence that nuclear receptors are key regulators of the DR longevity response, which imply hormonal and metabolic control of longevity, possibly through alterations in fat metabolism, lipolysis, and autophagy.
PMCID: PMC3723528  PMID: 23935515
14.  Defects in the C. elegans acyl-CoA Synthase, acs-3, and Nuclear Hormone Receptor, nhr-25, Cause Sensitivity to Distinct, but Overlapping Stresses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92552.
Metazoan transcription factors control distinct networks of genes in specific tissues, yet understanding how these networks are integrated into physiology, development, and homeostasis remains challenging. Inactivation of the nuclear hormone receptor nhr-25 ameliorates developmental and metabolic phenotypes associated with loss of function of an acyl-CoA synthetase gene, acs-3. ACS-3 activity prevents aberrantly high NHR-25 activity. Here, we investigated this relationship further by examining gene expression patterns following acs-3 and nhr-25 inactivation. Unexpectedly, we found that the acs-3 mutation or nhr-25 RNAi resulted in similar transcriptomes with enrichment in innate immunity and stress response gene expression. Mutants of either gene exhibited distinct sensitivities to pathogens and environmental stresses. Only nhr-25 was required for wild-type levels of resistance to the bacterial pathogen P. aeruginosa and only acs-3 was required for wild-type levels of resistance to osmotic stress and the oxidative stress generator, juglone. Inactivation of either acs-3 or nhr-25 compromised lifespan and resistance to the fungal pathogen D. coniospora. Double mutants exhibited more severe defects in the lifespan and P. aeruginosa assays, but were similar to the single mutants in other assays. Finally, acs-3 mutants displayed defects in their epidermal surface barrier, potentially accounting for the observed sensitivities. Together, these data indicate that inactivation of either acs-3 or nhr-25 causes stress sensitivity and increased expression of innate immunity/stress genes, most likely by different mechanisms. Elevated expression of these immune/stress genes appears to abrogate the transcriptional signatures relevant to metabolism and development.
PMCID: PMC3961378  PMID: 24651852
15.  Comparative analysis of function and interaction of transcription factors in nematodes: Extensive conservation of orthology coupled to rapid sequence evolution 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:399.
Much of the morphological diversity in eukaryotes results from differential regulation of gene expression in which transcription factors (TFs) play a central role. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an established model organism for the study of the roles of TFs in controlling the spatiotemporal pattern of gene expression. Using the fully sequenced genomes of three Caenorhabditid nematode species as well as genome information from additional more distantly related organisms (fruit fly, mouse, and human) we sought to identify orthologous TFs and characterized their patterns of evolution.
We identified 988 TF genes in C. elegans, and inferred corresponding sets in C. briggsae and C. remanei, containing 995 and 1093 TF genes, respectively. Analysis of the three gene sets revealed 652 3-way reciprocal 'best hit' orthologs (nematode TF set), approximately half of which are zinc finger (ZF-C2H2 and ZF-C4/NHR types) and HOX family members. Examination of the TF genes in C. elegans and C. briggsae identified the presence of significant tandem clustering on chromosome V, the majority of which belong to ZF-C4/NHR family. We also found evidence for lineage-specific duplications and rapid evolution of many of the TF genes in the two species. A search of the TFs conserved among nematodes in Drosophila melanogaster, Mus musculus and Homo sapiens revealed 150 reciprocal orthologs, many of which are associated with important biological processes and human diseases. Finally, a comparison of the sequence, gene interactions and function indicates that nematode TFs conserved across phyla exhibit significantly more interactions and are enriched in genes with annotated mutant phenotypes compared to those that lack orthologs in other species.
Our study represents the first comprehensive genome-wide analysis of TFs across three nematode species and other organisms. The findings indicate substantial conservation of transcription factors even across distant evolutionary lineages and form the basis for future experiments to examine TF gene function in nematodes and other divergent phyla.
PMCID: PMC2533025  PMID: 18752680
16.  The Caenorhabditis elegans Nuclear Receptor Gene nhr-25 Regulates Epidermal Cell Development 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(17):7345-7358.
The development of the epidermis of Caenorhabditis elegans involves cell fusion, migration, and differentiation events. To understand the mechanisms underlying these processes, we characterized the roles of NHR-25, a member of the nuclear receptor family of transcription factors. The NHR-25 homologs Ftz-F1 in Drosophila and SF-1 in mammals are involved in various biological processes, including regulation of patterning during development, reproduction, metabolism, metamorphosis, and homeostasis. Impairment of nhr-25 activity leads to severe phenotypes in embryos and many postembryonic tissues. Further analysis has indicated that nhr-25 activity is required for the proper development, including cell-cell fusion, of several epidermal cell types, such as the epidermal syncytial, seam, and Pn.p cells. Our results also suggest that nhr-25 is likely to regulate cell-cell junctions and/or fusion. In a subset of Pn.p cells, called vulval precursor cells, nhr-25 acts collaboratively with the lin-39 Hox gene in regulating vulval cell differentiation. Additionally, our data suggest that nhr-25 may also function with another Hox gene, nob-1, during embryogenesis. Overall, our results indicate that nhr-25 plays an integral role in regulating cellular processes of epidermal cells.
PMCID: PMC506989  PMID: 15314147
17.  The nuclear receptor gene nhr-25 plays multiple roles in the C. elegans heterochronic gene network to control the larva-to-adult transition 
Developmental biology  2010;344(2):1100-1109.
Developmental timing in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is controlled by heterochronic genes, mutations in which cause changes in the relative timing of developmental events. One of the heterochronic genes, let-7, encodes a microRNA that is highly evolutionarily conserved, suggesting that similar genetic pathways control developmental timing across phyla. Here we report that the nuclear receptor nhr-25, which belongs to the evolutionarily conserved fushi tarazu-factor 1/nuclear receptor NR5A subfamily, interacts with heterochronic genes that regulate the larva-to-adult transition in C. elegans. We identified nhr-25 as a regulator of apl-1, a homolog of the Alzheimer’s amyloid precursor protein-like gene that is downstream of let-7 family microRNAs. NHR-25 controls not only apl-1 expression but also regulates developmental progression in the larva-to-adult transition. NHR-25 negatively regulates the expression of the adult-specific collagen gene col-19 in lateral epidermal seam cells. In contrast, NHR-25 positively regulates the larva-to-adult transition for other timed events in seam cells, such as cell fusion, cell division and alae formation. The genetic relationships between nhr-25 and other heterochronic genes are strikingly varied among several adult developmental events. We propose that nhr-25 has multiple roles in both promoting and inhibiting the C. elegans heterochronic gene pathway controlling adult differentiation programs.
PMCID: PMC2915939  PMID: 20678979
apl-1; Caenorhabditis elegans; heterochronic gene; developmental timing; let-7; nuclear receptor; nhr-25
18.  The tailless Ortholog nhr-67 Regulates Patterning of Gene Expression and Morphogenesis in the C. elegans Vulva 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e69.
Regulation of spatio-temporal gene expression in diverse cell and tissue types is a critical aspect of development. Progression through Caenorhabditis elegans vulval development leads to the generation of seven distinct vulval cell types (vulA, vulB1, vulB2, vulC, vulD, vulE, and vulF), each with its own unique gene expression profile. The mechanisms that establish the precise spatial patterning of these mature cell types are largely unknown. Dissection of the gene regulatory networks involved in vulval patterning and differentiation would help us understand how cells generate a spatially defined pattern of cell fates during organogenesis. We disrupted the activity of 508 transcription factors via RNAi and assayed the expression of ceh-2, a marker for vulB fate during the L4 stage. From this screen, we identified the tailless ortholog nhr-67 as a novel regulator of gene expression in multiple vulval cell types. We find that one way in which nhr-67 maintains cell identity is by restricting inappropriate cell fusion events in specific vulval cells, namely vulE and vulF. nhr-67 exhibits a dynamic expression pattern in the vulval cells and interacts with three other transcriptional regulators cog-1 (Nkx6.1/6.2), lin-11 (LIM), and egl-38 (Pax2/5/8) to generate the composite expression patterns of their downstream targets. We provide evidence that egl-38 regulates gene expression in vulB1, vulC, vulD, vulE, as well as vulF cells. We demonstrate that the pairwise interactions between these regulatory genes are complex and vary among the seven cell types. We also discovered a striking regulatory circuit that affects a subset of the vulval lineages: cog-1 and nhr-67 inhibit both one another and themselves. We postulate that the differential levels and combinatorial patterns of lin-11, cog-1, and nhr-67 expression are a part of a regulatory code for the mature vulval cell types.
Author Summary
During development, in which the single-celled egg generates a whole organism, cells become different from each other and form patterns of types of cells. It is these spatially defined fate patterns that underlie the formation of complex organs. Regulatory molecules called transcription factors influence the fate patterns that cells adopt. Understanding the role of these transcription factors and their interactions with other genes could tell us how cells establish a certain pattern of cell fates. This study focuses on studying how the seven cell types of the Caenorhabditis elegans vulva arise. This organ is one of the most intensively studied, and while the signaling network that initiates vulval development and sets the gross pattern of cell differentiation is well understood, the network of transcription factors that specifies the final cell fates is not understood. Here, we identify nhr-67, a new transcription factor that regulates patterning of cell fates in this organ. Transcription factors do not necessarily act alone, and we explore how NHR-67 works with three other regulatory factors (each with human homologs) to specify the different properties of the vulval cells. We also demonstrate that the interconnections of these transcription factors differ between these seven diverse cell types, which may partially account for how these cells acquire a certain pattern of cell fates.
PMCID: PMC1857733  PMID: 17465684
19.  The Mediator Subunit MDT-15 Confers Metabolic Adaptation to Ingested Material 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(2):e1000021.
In eukaryotes, RNA polymerase II (PolII) dependent gene expression requires accessory factors termed transcriptional coregulators. One coregulator that universally contributes to PolII-dependent transcription is the Mediator, a multisubunit complex that is targeted by many transcriptional regulatory factors. For example, the Caenorhabditis elegans Mediator subunit MDT-15 confers the regulatory actions of the sterol response element binding protein SBP-1 and the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-49 on fatty acid metabolism. Here, we demonstrate that MDT-15 displays a broader spectrum of activities, and that it integrates metabolic responses to materials ingested by C. elegans. Depletion of MDT-15 protein or mutation of the mdt-15 gene abrogated induction of specific detoxification genes in response to certain xenobiotics or heavy metals, rendering these animals hypersensitive to toxin exposure. Intriguingly, MDT-15 appeared to selectively affect stress responses related to ingestion, as MDT-15 functional defects did not abrogate other stress responses, e.g., thermotolerance. Together with our previous finding that MDT-15:NHR-49 regulatory complexes coordinate a sector of the fasting response, we propose a model whereby MDT-15 integrates several transcriptional regulatory pathways to monitor both the availability and quality of ingested materials, including nutrients and xenobiotic compounds.
Author Summary
All organisms adapt their physiology to external input, such as altered food availability or toxic challenges. Many of these responses are driven by changes in gene transcription. In general, sequence specific DNA-binding regulatory factors are considered the specificity determinants of the transcriptional output. Here, we show that, in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, one subunit of a >20 subunit, evolutionarily conserved, non-DNA binding co-factor termed Mediator, specifies a portion of the metabolic responses to a mixture of ingested material. This protein, MDT-15, is required for appropriate expression of genes that protect worms from the effects of toxic compounds and heavy metals. Our previous findings showed that the same protein also cooperates with other regulators to coordinate lipid metabolism. We suggest that MDT-15 may “route” transcriptional responses appropriate to the ingested material. This physiological scope appears broader and more sophisticated than that of any individual regulatory factor, thus coordinating systemic metabolic adaptation with ingestion. Given the evolutionary conservation of MDT-15 and the Mediator, a similar regulatory pathway may ensure health and longevity in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2265483  PMID: 18454197
20.  cGMP and NHR Signaling Co-regulate Expression of Insulin-Like Peptides and Developmental Activation of Infective Larvae in Strongyloides stercoralis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(7):e1004235.
The infectious form of the parasitic nematode Strongyloides stercoralis is a developmentally arrested third-stage larva (L3i), which is morphologically similar to the developmentally arrested dauer larva in the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We hypothesize that the molecular pathways regulating C. elegans dauer development also control L3i arrest and activation in S. stercoralis. This study aimed to determine the factors that regulate L3i activation, with a focus on G protein-coupled receptor-mediated regulation of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) pathway signaling, including its modulation of the insulin/IGF-1-like signaling (IIS) pathway. We found that application of the membrane-permeable cGMP analog 8-bromo-cGMP potently activated development of S. stercoralis L3i, as measured by resumption of feeding, with 85.1±2.2% of L3i feeding in 200 µM 8-bromo-cGMP in comparison to 0.6±0.3% in the buffer diluent. Utilizing RNAseq, we examined L3i stimulated with DMEM, 8-bromo-cGMP, or the DAF-12 nuclear hormone receptor (NHR) ligand Δ7-dafachronic acid (DA)—a signaling pathway downstream of IIS in C. elegans. L3i stimulated with 8-bromo-cGMP up-regulated transcripts of the putative agonistic insulin-like peptide (ILP) -encoding genes Ss-ilp-1 (20-fold) and Ss-ilp-6 (11-fold) in comparison to controls without stimulation. Surprisingly, we found that Δ7-DA similarly modulated transcript levels of ILP-encoding genes. Using the phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase inhibitor LY294002, we demonstrated that 400 nM Δ7-DA-mediated activation (93.3±1.1% L3i feeding) can be blocked using this IIS inhibitor at 100 µM (7.6±1.6% L3i feeding). To determine the tissues where promoters of ILP-encoding genes are active, we expressed promoter::egfp reporter constructs in transgenic S. stercoralis post-free-living larvae. Ss-ilp-1 and Ss-ilp-6 promoters are active in the hypodermis and neurons and the Ss-ilp-7 promoter is active in the intestine and a pair of head neurons. Together, these data provide evidence that cGMP and DAF-12 NHR signaling converge on IIS to regulate S. stercoralis L3i activation.
Author Summary
Human parasitic nematodes, including Strongyloides stercoralis, cause extensive morbidity in the developing world. The infectious form of S. stercoralis is a developmentally arrested third-stage larva (L3i), which resumes development into a parasitic adult upon entering a host. The molecular mechanisms controlling the developmental arrest and activation of L3i are not well understood. The free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has a morphologically similar developmentally arrested third-stage dauer larva, which is regulated by four canonical dauer signaling pathways. Using C. elegans as a model, we hypothesized that cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) signaling would be important for L3i activation and would also regulate downstream insulin/IGF-1-like signaling (IIS). Indeed, we found that the membrane-permeable cGMP analog 8-bromo-cGMP stimulated L3i activation, accompanied by an increase in transcripts of putative agonistic insulin-like peptides (ILPs), which encode the ligands for IIS. Using the C. elegans model, we also hypothesized that DAF-12 nuclear hormone receptor (NHR) signaling would be downstream of IIS during L3i activation. Surprisingly, we found that during L3i activation, parallel cGMP and DAF-12 NHR signaling pathways co-regulate the downstream IIS pathway via modulation of ILPs. Together, these data help to further elucidate the pathways governing S. stercoralis L3i development.
PMCID: PMC4092141  PMID: 25010340
Journal of proteome research  2008;7(10):4359-4372.
Many proteins possess intrinsic disorder (ID) and lack a rigid three-dimensional structure in at least part of their sequence. ID has been hypothesized to influence protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions. We calculated ID for nearly 400 vertebrate and invertebrate members of the biomedically important nuclear hormone receptor (NHR) superfamily, including all 48 known human NHRs. The predictions correctly identified regions in 20 of the 23 NHRs suggested as disordered based on published X-ray and NMR structures. Of the four major NHR domains (N-terminal domain, DNA-binding domain, D-domain, and ligand-binding domain), we found ID to be highest in the D-domain, a region of NHRs critical in DNA recognition and heterodimerization, coactivator/corepressor interactions and protein-protein interactions. ID in the D-domain and LBD was significantly higher in “hub” human NHRs that have 10 or more downstream proteins in their interaction networks compared to “non-hub” NHRs that interact with fewer than 10 downstream proteins. ID in the D-domain and LBD was also higher in classic, ligand-activated NHRs than in orphan, ligand-independent NHRs in human. The correlation between ID in human and mouse NHRs was high. Less correlation was found for ID between mammalian and non-mammalian vertebrate NHRs. For some invertebrate species, particularly sea squirts (Ciona), marked differences were observed in ID between invertebrate NHRs and their vertebrate orthologs. Our results indicate that variability of ID within NHRs, particularly in the D-domain and LBD, is likely an important evolutionary force in shaping protein-protein interactions and NHR function. This information enables further understanding of these therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC2700763  PMID: 18651760
D-domain; Ingenuity Pathways Analysis; intrinsic disorder; nuclear hormone receptor; orphan receptor; ligand binding domain; ligand-protein interactions; PONDR; protein-protein interactions; X-ray structure
22.  The C. elegans nuclear receptor NHR-6 functionally interacts with the JUN-1 transcription factor during spermatheca development 
The NR4A nuclear receptor NHR-6 is an essential regulator of spermatheca organogenesis in C. elegans. In this study, we perform a focused, RNAi-based screen to identify modifiers of partial nhr-6 loss of function. Ninety-eight genes that encode signaling proteins expressed in the spermatheca were screened for enhancement of the nhr-6 RNAi phenotype. We identify the C. elegans gene jun-1, which encodes the homolog of the Jun transcription factor, as a strong enhancer of nhr-6 partial loss of function. We show that nhr-6 and jun-1 function together to regulate development of the spermatheca and are necessary for generating an organ with the normal number of cells. jun-1 is expressed in all cells of the developing spermatheca. We also provide evidence that NHR-6 and JUN-1 can physically interact in a yeast two-hybrid assay. Our results provide in vivo evidence that NR4A nuclear receptor and Jun transcription factor interactions are essential in regulating developmental processes in metazoans.
PMCID: PMC3954850  PMID: 24178943
RNAi interaction screen; NR4A; modifier
23.  Genetic Regulation of Unsaturated Fatty Acid Composition in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(7):e108.
Delta-9 desaturases, also known as stearoyl-CoA desaturases, are lipogenic enzymes responsible for the generation of vital components of membranes and energy storage molecules. We have identified a novel nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-80, that regulates delta-9 desaturase gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we describe fatty acid compositions, lifespans, and gene expression studies of strains carrying mutations in nhr-80 and in the three genes encoding delta-9 desaturases, fat-5, fat-6, and fat-7. The delta-9 desaturase single mutants display only subtle changes in fatty acid composition and no other visible phenotypes, yet the fat-5;fat-6;fat-7 triple mutant is lethal, revealing that endogenous production of monounsaturated fatty acids is essential for survival. In the absence of FAT-6 or FAT-7, the expression of the remaining desaturases increases, and this ability to compensate depends on NHR-80. We conclude that, like mammals, C. elegans requires adequate synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids and maintains complex regulation of the delta-9 desaturases to achieve optimal fatty acid composition.
The ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids has a profound affect on the fluidity and function of cellular membranes. Animals, plants, and microorganisms regulate the synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids during changing environmental conditions, as well as in response to dietary nutrients. In this paper the authors use a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to address the regulation of unsaturated fatty acid synthesis in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. They identify a new transcription factor, NHR-80, that activates the expression of genes encoding delta-9 fatty acid desaturases, the enzymes responsible for catalyzing the insertion of double bonds into saturated fatty acid chains. These unsaturated fatty acids are critical components of membranes, as well as fat storage molecules. Experiments presented here demonstrate that the worms require adequate synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids for survival and that they maintain intricate regulation of the three delta-9 desaturase genes in response to different nutrients. Abnormalities in lipid metabolism lead to obesity and diabetes in humans; this study contributes to our understanding of the regulation of this metabolic pathway.
PMCID: PMC1500810  PMID: 16839188
24.  The conserved Mediator subunit MDT-15 is required for oxidative stress responses in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Aging Cell  2013;13(1):70-79.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play important signaling roles in metazoans, but also cause significant molecular damage. Animals tightly control ROS levels using sophisticated defense mechanisms, yet the transcriptional pathways that induce ROS defense remain incompletely understood. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the transcription factor SKN-1 is considered a master regulator for detoxification and oxidative stress responses. Here, we show that MDT-15, a subunit of the conserved Mediator complex, is also required for oxidative stress responses in nematodes. Specifically, mdt-15 is required to express SKN-1 targets upon chemical and genetic increase in SKN-1 activity. mdt-15 is also required to express genes in SKN-1-dependent and SKN-1-independent fashions downstream of insulin/IGF-1 signaling and for the longevity of daf-2/insulin receptor mutants. At the molecular level, MDT-15 binds SKN-1 through a region distinct from the classical transcription-factor-binding KIX-domain. Moreover, mdt-15 is essential for the transcriptional response to and survival on the organic peroxide tert-butyl-hydroperoxide (tBOOH), a largely SKN-1-independent response. The MDT-15 interacting nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-64, is specifically required for tBOOH but not arsenite resistance, but NHR-64 is dispensable for the transcriptional response to tBOOH. Hence, NHR-64 and MDT-15’s mode of action remain elusive. Lastly, the role of MDT-15 in oxidative stress defense is functionally separable from its function in fatty acid metabolism, as exogenous polyunsaturated fatty acid complementation rescues developmental, but not stress sensitivity phenotypes of mdt-15 worms. Our findings reveal novel conserved players in the oxidative stress response and suggest a broad cytoprotective role for MDT-15.
PMCID: PMC4326869  PMID: 23957350
daf-2; MDT-15; Mediator complex; nuclear hormone receptor; oxidative stress; SKN-1
25.  Specificity of DNA-binding by the FAX-1 and NHR-67 nuclear receptors of Caenorhabditis elegans is partially mediated via a subclass-specific P-box residue 
The nuclear receptors of the NR2E class play important roles in pattern formation and nervous system development. Based on a phylogenetic analysis of DNA-binding domains, we define two conserved groups of orthologous NR2E genes: the NR2E1 subclass, which includes C. elegans nhr-67, Drosophila tailless and dissatisfaction, and vertebrate Tlx (NR2E2, NR2E4, NR2E1), and the NR2E3 subclass, which includes C. elegans fax-1 and vertebrate PNR (NR2E5, NR2E3). PNR and Tll nuclear receptors have been shown to bind the hexamer half-site AAGTCA, instead of the hexamer AGGTCA recognized by most other nuclear receptors, suggesting unique DNA-binding properties for NR2E class members.
We show that NR2E3 subclass member FAX-1, unlike NHR-67 and other NR2E1 subclass members, binds to hexamer half-sites with relaxed specificity: it will bind hexamers with the sequence ANGTCA, although it prefers a purine to a pyrimidine at the second position. We use site-directed mutagenesis to demonstrate that the difference between FAX-1 and NHR-67 binding preference is partially mediated by a conserved subclass-specific asparagine or aspartate residue at position 19 of the DNA-binding domain. This amino acid position is part of the "P box" that plays a critical role in defining binding site specificity and has been shown to make hydrogen-bond contacts to the second position of the hexamer in co-crystal structures for other nuclear receptors. The relaxed specificity allows FAX-1 to bind a much larger repertoire of half-sites than NHR-67. While NR2E1 class proteins bind both monomeric and dimeric sites, the NR2E3 class proteins bind only dimeric sites. The presence of a single strong site adjacent to a very weak site allows dimeric FAX-1 binding, further increasing the number of dimeric binding sites to which FAX-1 may bind in vivo.
These findings identify subclass-specific DNA-binding specificities and dimerization properties for the NR2E1 and NR2E3 subclasses. For the NR2E1 protein NHR-67, Asp-19 permits binding to AAGTCA half-sites, while Asn-19 permits binding to AGGTCA half-sites. The apparent conservation of DNA-binding properties between vertebrate and nematode NR2E receptors allows for the possibility of evolutionarily-conserved regulatory patterns.
PMCID: PMC2225407  PMID: 18179707

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