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1.  Integrity of Narrow Epithelial Tubes in the C. elegans Excretory System Requires a Transient Luminal Matrix 
PLoS Genetics  2016;12(8):e1006205.
Most epithelial cells secrete a glycoprotein-rich apical extracellular matrix that can have diverse but still poorly understood roles in development and physiology. Zona Pellucida (ZP) domain glycoproteins are common constituents of these matrices, and their loss in humans is associated with a number of diseases. Understanding of the functions, organization and regulation of apical matrices has been hampered by difficulties in imaging them both in vivo and ex vivo. We identified the PAN-Apple, mucin and ZP domain glycoprotein LET-653 as an early and transient apical matrix component that shapes developing epithelia in C. elegans. LET-653 has modest effects on shaping of the vulva and epidermis, but is essential to prevent lumen fragmentation in the very narrow, unicellular excretory duct tube. We were able to image the transient LET-653 matrix by both live confocal imaging and transmission electron microscopy. Structure/function and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching studies revealed that LET-653 exists in two separate luminal matrix pools, a loose fibrillar matrix in the central core of the lumen, to which it binds dynamically via its PAN domains, and an apical-membrane-associated matrix, to which it binds stably via its ZP domain. The PAN domains are both necessary and sufficient to confer a cyclic pattern of duct lumen localization that precedes each molt, while the ZP domain is required for lumen integrity. Ectopic expression of full-length LET-653, but not the PAN domains alone, could expand lumen diameter in the developing gut tube, where LET-653 is not normally expressed. Together, these data support a model in which the PAN domains regulate the ability of the LET-653 ZP domain to interact with other factors at the apical membrane, and this ZP domain interaction promotes expansion and maintenance of lumen diameter. These data identify a transient apical matrix component present prior to cuticle secretion in C. elegans, demonstrate critical roles for this matrix component in supporting lumen integrity within narrow bore tubes such as those found in the mammalian microvasculature, and reveal functional importance of the evolutionarily conserved ZP domain in this tube protecting activity.
Author Summary
Most organs in the body are made up of networks of tubes that transport fluids or gases. These tubes come in many different sizes and shapes, with some narrow capillaries being only one cell in diameter. As tubes develop and take their final shapes, they secrete various glycoproteins into their hollow interior or lumen. The functions of these luminal proteins are not well understood, but there is increasing evidence that they are important for lumen shaping and that their loss can contribute to diseases such as cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease. Through studies of the nematode C. elegans, we identified a luminal glycoprotein, LET-653, that is transiently expressed in multiple developing tube types but is particularly critical to maintain integrity of the narrowest, unicellular tubes. We identified protein domains that direct LET-653 to specific apical matrix compartments and mediate its oscillatory pattern of lumen localization. Furthermore, we showed that the LET-653 tube-protecting activity depends on a Zona Pellucida (ZP) domain similar to that found in the mammalian egg-coat and in many other luminal or sensory matrix proteins involved in human disease.
PMCID: PMC4970718  PMID: 27482894
2.  Age-Related Phasic Patterns of Mitochondrial Maintenance in Adult Caenorhabditis elegans Neurons 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2016;36(4):1373-1385.
Aging is associated with cognitive decline and increasing risk of neurodegeneration. Perturbation of mitochondrial function, dynamics, and trafficking are implicated in the pathogenesis of several age-associated neurodegenerative diseases. Despite this fundamental importance, the critical understanding of how organismal aging affects lifetime neuronal mitochondrial maintenance remains unknown, particularly in a physiologically relevant context. To address this issue, we performed a comprehensive in vivo analysis of age-associated changes in mitochondrial morphology, density, trafficking, and stress resistance in individual Caenorhabditis elegans neurons throughout adult life. Adult neurons display three distinct stages of increase, maintenance, and decrease in mitochondrial size and density during adulthood. Mitochondrial trafficking in the distal neuronal processes declines progressively with age starting from early adulthood. In contrast, long-lived daf-2 mutants exhibit delayed age-associated changes in mitochondrial morphology, constant mitochondrial density, and maintained trafficking rates during adulthood. Reduced mitochondrial load at late adulthood correlates with decreased mitochondrial resistance to oxidative stress. Revealing aging-associated changes in neuronal mitochondria in vivo is an essential precedent that will allow future elucidation of the mechanistic causes of mitochondrial aging. Thus, our study establishes the critical foundation for the future analysis of cellular pathways and genetic and pharmacological factors regulating mitochondrial maintenance in aging- and disease-relevant conditions.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model, we address long-standing questions: How does aging affect neuronal mitochondrial morphology, density, trafficking, and oxidative stress resistance? Are these age-related changes amenable to genetic manipulations that slow down the aging process? Our study illustrates that mitochondrial trafficking declines progressively from the first day of adulthood, whereas mitochondrial size, density, and resistance to oxidative stress undergo three distinct stages: increase in early adulthood, maintenance at high levels during mid-adulthood, and decline during late adulthood. Thus, our study characterizes mitochondrial aging profile at the level of a single neuron in its native environment and establishes the critical foundation for the future genetic and pharmacological dissection of factors that influence long-term mitochondrial maintenance in neurons.
PMCID: PMC4728731  PMID: 26818523
age-related changes; Caenorhabditis elegans; in vivo microscopy; mitochondrial trafficking; neuronal mitochondria
3.  Glia-derived neurons are required for sex-specific learning in C. elegans 
Nature  2015;526(7573):385-390.
Sex differences in behaviour extend to cognitive-like processes such as learning but the underlying dimorphisms in neural circuit development and organization that generate these behavioural differences are largely unknown.
Here we define at the single-cell level, from development, through neural circuit connectivity, to function, the neural basis of a sex-specific learning in the nematode C. elegans. We show that sexual conditioning, a form of associative learning, requires a pair of male-specific interneurons whose progenitors are fully differentiated glia. These neurons are born during sexual maturation and incorporated into pre-exisiting sex-shared circuits to couple chemotactic responses to reproductive priorities. Our findings reveal a general role for glia as neural progenitors across metazoan taxa and demonstrate that the addition of sex-specific neuron types to brain circuits during sexual maturation is an important mechanism for the generation of sexually dimorphic plasticity in learning.
PMCID: PMC4650210  PMID: 26469050
4.  The apoptotic engulfment machinery regulates axonal degeneration in C. elegans neurons 
Cell reports  2016;14(7):1673-1683.
Axonal degeneration is a characteristic feature of neurodegenerative disease and nerve injury. Here, we characterize axonal degeneration in Caenorhabditis elegans neurons following laser-induced axotomy. We show that this process proceeds independently of the WLDS and Nmnat pathway, and requires the axonal clearance machinery that includes the conserved transmembrane receptor CED-1/Draper, the adaptor protein CED-6, the guanine nucleotide exchange factor complex Crk/Mbc/dCed-12 (CED-2/CED-5/CED-12) and the small GTPase Rac1 (CED-10). We demonstrate that CED-1 and CED-6 function non-cell-autonomously in the surrounding hypodermis, which we show acts as the engulfing tissue for the severed axon. Moreover, we establish a function in this process for CED-7, an ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter, and NRF-5, a lipid-binding protein, both associated with release of lipid-vesicles during apoptotic cell clearance. Thus, our results reveal the existence of a WLDS /Nmnat-independent axonal degeneration pathway, conservation of the axonal clearance machinery, and a function for CED-7 and NRF-5 in this process.
E-TOC Paragraph
Axonal degeneration is a common hallmark of neurodegenerative disease and nerve injury. Using an axonal injury paradigm in C. elegans, Nichols et al. show that axonal degeneration in this organism is regulated by conserved components of the apoptotic engulfment machinery, and identify the epidermis as the engulfing tissue.
PMCID: PMC4821572  PMID: 26876181
5.  A cellular and regulatory map of the cholinergic nervous system of C. elegans 
eLife  null;4:e12432.
Nervous system maps are of critical importance for understanding how nervous systems develop and function. We systematically map here all cholinergic neuron types in the male and hermaphrodite C. elegans nervous system. We find that acetylcholine (ACh) is the most broadly used neurotransmitter and we analyze its usage relative to other neurotransmitters within the context of the entire connectome and within specific network motifs embedded in the connectome. We reveal several dynamic aspects of cholinergic neurotransmitter identity, including a sexually dimorphic glutamatergic to cholinergic neurotransmitter switch in a sex-shared interneuron. An expression pattern analysis of ACh-gated anion channels furthermore suggests that ACh may also operate very broadly as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. As a first application of this comprehensive neurotransmitter map, we identify transcriptional regulatory mechanisms that control cholinergic neurotransmitter identity and cholinergic circuit assembly.
eLife digest
To better understand the nervous system—the most complex of all the body’s organs—scientists have begun to painstakingly map its many features. These maps can then be used as a basis for understanding how the nervous system develops and works.
Researchers have mapped the connections – called synapses – between all the nerve cells in the nervous system of a simple worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. Cells communicate by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters across the synapses, but it is not fully known which types of neurotransmitters are released across each of the synapses in C. elegans.
Now, Pereira et al. have mapped all worm nerve cells that use a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine by fluorescently marking proteins that synthesize and transport the neurotransmitter. This map revealed that 52 of the 118 types of nerve cells in the worm use acetylcholine, making it the most widely used neurotransmitter. This information was then combined with the findings of previous work that investigated which nerve cells release some other types of neurotransmitters. The combined data mean that it is now known which neurotransmitter is used for signaling by over 90% of the nerve cells in C. elegans.
Using the map, Pereira et al. found that some neurons release different neurotransmitters in the different sexes of the worm. Additionally, the experiments revealed a set of proteins that cause the nerve cells to produce acetylcholine. Some of these proteins affect the fates of connected nerve cells. Overall, this information will allow scientists to more precisely manipulate specific cells or groups of cells in the worm nervous system to investigate how the nervous system develops and is regulated.
PMCID: PMC4769160  PMID: 26705699
neurotransmitter; transcriptional regulation; neuronal identity; C. elegans
6.  The Tubulin Deglutamylase CCPP-1 Regulates the Function and Stability of Sensory Cilia in C. elegans 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(20):1685-1694.
Post-translational modifications (PTMs) such as acetylation, detyrosination, and polyglutamylation have long been considered markers of stable microtubules, and have recently been proposed to guide molecular motors to specific subcellular destinations. Microtubules can be deglutamylated by the cytosolic carboxypeptidase CCP1. Loss of CCP1 in mice causes cerebellar Purkinje cell degeneration. Cilia, which are conserved organelles that play important diverse roles in animal development and sensation, contain axonemes comprised of microtubules that are especially prone to PTMs.
Here, we report that a CCP1 homolog, CCPP-1, regulates the ciliary localization of the kinesin-3 KLP-6 and the polycystin PKD-2 in male-specific sensory neurons in C. elegans. In male-specific CEM (cephalic sensilla, male) cilia, ccpp-1 also controls the velocity of the kinesin-2 OSM-3/KIF17 without affecting the transport of kinesin-II cargo. In the core ciliated nervous system of both males and hermaphrodites, loss of ccpp-1 causes progressive defects in amphid and phasmid sensory cilia, suggesting that CCPP-1 activity is required for ciliary maintenance but not ciliogenesis. Affected cilia exhibit defective B-tubules. Loss of TTLL-4, a polyglutamylating enzyme, suppresses progressive ciliary defects in ccpp-1 mutants.
Our studies suggest that CCPP-1 acts as a tubulin deglutamylase that regulates the localization and velocity of kinesin motors, and the structural integrity of microtubules in sensory cilia of a multicellular, living animal. We propose that the neuronal degeneration caused by loss of CCP1 in mammals may represent a novel ciliopathy in which cilia are formed but not maintained, depriving the cell of cilia-based signal transduction.
PMCID: PMC4680987  PMID: 21982591
7.  C. elegans ciliated sensory neurons release extracellular vesicles that function in animal communication 
Current biology : CB  2014;24(5):519-525.
Cells release extracellular vesicles (ECVs) that play important roles in intercellular communication and may mediate a broad range of physiological and pathological processes. Many fundamental aspects of ECV biogenesis and signaling have yet to be determined, with ECV detection being a challenge and obstacle due to their small size (100nm). We developed an in vivo system to visualize the dynamic release of GFP-labeled ECVs. We show here that specific Caenorhabdidits elegans ciliated sensory neurons shed and release ECVs containing GFP-tagged polycystins LOV-1 and PKD-2. These ECVs are also abundant in the lumen surrounding the cilium. Electron tomography and genetic analysis indicate that ECV biogenesis occurs via budding from the plasma membrane at the ciliary base and not via fusion of multivesicular bodies (MVBs). Intraflagellar transport (IFT) and kinesin-3 KLP-6 are required for environmental release of PKD-2::GFP-containing ECVs. ECVs isolated from wild-type animals induce male tail chasing behavior, while ECVs isolated from klp-6 animals and lacking PKD-2::GFP do not. We conclude that environmentally released ECVs play a role in animal communication and mating related behaviors.
PMCID: PMC4659354  PMID: 24530063
8.  B-LINK: A hemicentin, plakin and integrin-dependent adhesion system that links tissues by connecting adjacent basement membranes 
Developmental cell  2014;31(3):319-331.
Basement membrane (BM), a sheet-like form of extracellular matrix, surrounds most tissues. During organogenesis specific adhesions between adjoining tissues frequently occur, however their molecular basis is unclear. Using live-cell imaging and electron microscopy we identify an adhesion system that connects the uterine and gonadal tissues through their juxtaposed BMs at the site of anchor cell (AC) invasion in C. elegans. We find that the extracellular matrix component hemicentin (HIM-4), found between BMs, forms punctate accumulations under the AC and controls BM linkage to promote rapid invasion. Through targeted screening we identify the integrin-binding cytolinker plakin (VAB-10A) and integrin (INA-1/PAT-3) as key BM-BM linkage regulators: VAB-10A localizes to the AC-BM interface and tethers hemicentin to the AC while integrin promotes hemicentin punctae formation. Together, plakin, integrin and hemicentin are founding components of a cell-directed adhesion system, which we name a B-LINK (Basement membrane-LINKage), that connects adjacent tissues through adjoining BMs.
PMCID: PMC4254419  PMID: 25443298
9.  Digital development: a database of cell lineage differentiation in C. elegans with lineage phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions and a multiscale model 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;44(Database issue):D781-D785.
Developmental systems biology is poised to exploit large-scale data from two approaches: genomics and live imaging. The combination of the two offers the opportunity to map gene functions and gene networks in vivo at single-cell resolution using cell tracking and quantification of cellular phenotypes. Here we present Digital Development (, a database of cell lineage differentiation with curated phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions and a multiscale model. The database stores data from recent systematic studies of cell lineage differentiation in the C. elegans embryo containing ∼200 conserved genes, 1400 perturbed cell lineages and 600 000 digitized single cells. Users can conveniently browse, search and download four categories of phenotypic and functional information from an intuitive web interface. This information includes lineage differentiation phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions, differentiation landscapes and fate choices, and a multiscale model of lineage differentiation. Digital Development provides a comprehensive, curated, multidimensional database for developmental biology. The scale, resolution and richness of biological information presented here facilitate exploration of gene-specific and systems-level mechanisms of lineage differentiation in Metazoans.
PMCID: PMC4702815  PMID: 26503254
10.  Myristoylated CIL-7 regulates ciliary extracellular vesicle biogenesis 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2015;26(15):2823-2832.
Extracellular vesicle (EV) shedding from ciliated cells is an evolutionarily conserved phenomenon. Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent in vivo model with which to address fundamental questions regarding the biology of ciliary EVs. The myristoylated protein CIL-7 regulates EV biogenesis, and the myristoylation motif is essential for EV cargo association and function.
The cilium both releases and binds to extracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs may be used by cells as a form of intercellular communication and mediate a broad range of physiological and pathological processes. The mammalian polycystins (PCs) localize to cilia, as well as to urinary EVs released from renal epithelial cells. PC ciliary trafficking defects may be an underlying cause of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (PKD), and ciliary–EV interactions have been proposed to play a central role in the biology of PKD. In Caenorhabditis elegans and mammals, PC1 and PC2 act in the same genetic pathway, act in a sensory capacity, localize to cilia, and are contained in secreted EVs, suggesting ancient conservation. However, the relationship between cilia and EVs and the mechanisms generating PC-containing EVs remain an enigma. In a forward genetic screen for regulators of C. elegans PKD-2 ciliary localization, we identified CIL-7, a myristoylated protein that regulates EV biogenesis. Loss of CIL-7 results in male mating behavioral defects, excessive accumulation of EVs in the lumen of the cephalic sensory organ, and failure to release PKD-2::GFP-containing EVs to the environment. Fatty acylation, such as myristoylation and palmitoylation, targets proteins to cilia and flagella. The CIL-7 myristoylation motif is essential for CIL-7 function and for targeting CIL-7 to EVs. C. elegans is a powerful model with which to study ciliary EV biogenesis in vivo and identify cis-targeting motifs such as myristoylation that are necessary for EV–cargo association and function.
PMCID: PMC4571341  PMID: 26041936
11.  FLCN and AMPK Confer Resistance to Hyperosmotic Stress via Remodeling of Glycogen Stores 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(10):e1005520.
Mechanisms of adaptation to environmental changes in osmolarity are fundamental for cellular and organismal survival. Here we identify a novel osmotic stress resistance pathway in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), which is dependent on the metabolic master regulator 5’-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and its negative regulator Folliculin (FLCN). FLCN-1 is the nematode ortholog of the tumor suppressor FLCN, responsible for the Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) tumor syndrome. We show that flcn-1 mutants exhibit increased resistance to hyperosmotic stress via constitutive AMPK-dependent accumulation of glycogen reserves. Upon hyperosmotic stress exposure, glycogen stores are rapidly degraded, leading to a significant accumulation of the organic osmolyte glycerol through transcriptional upregulation of glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase enzymes (gpdh-1 and gpdh-2). Importantly, the hyperosmotic stress resistance in flcn-1 mutant and wild-type animals is strongly suppressed by loss of AMPK, glycogen synthase, glycogen phosphorylase, or simultaneous loss of gpdh-1 and gpdh-2 enzymes. Our studies show for the first time that animals normally exhibit AMPK-dependent glycogen stores, which can be utilized for rapid adaptation to either energy stress or hyperosmotic stress. Importantly, we show that glycogen accumulates in kidneys from mice lacking FLCN and in renal tumors from a BHD patient. Our findings suggest a dual role for glycogen, acting as a reservoir for energy supply and osmolyte production, and both processes might be supporting tumorigenesis.
Author Summary
The ability of an organism to adapt to sudden changes in environmental osmolarity is critical to ensure growth, propagation, and survival. The synthesis of organic osmolytes is a common adaptive strategy to survive hyperosmotic stress. However, it was not well understood, which biosynthetic pathways and storage strategies were used by organisms to rapidly generate osmolytes upon acute hyperosmotic stress. Here, we demonstrate that glycogen is an essential reservoir that is used upon acute hyperosmotic stress to generate the organic osmolyte glycerol promoting fast and efficient protection. Importantly, we show that this pathway is regulated by FLCN-1, an ortholog of the human tumor suppressor Folliculin responsible for the Birt-Hogg-Dubé cancer syndrome, and by AMPK, the master regulator of energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC4595296  PMID: 26439621
12.  A novel function for the Caenorhabditis elegans torsin OOC-5 in nucleoporin localization and nuclear import 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2015;26(9):1752-1763.
Mutation in the human AAA+ protein torsinA leads to DYT1 dystonia. Loss of a Caenorhabditis elegans torsin, OOC-5, leads to defects in nucleoporin localization and nuclear import, a novel phenotype for a torsin mutant. NE ultrastructural defects similar to those in mouse and fly torsin mutants are also found, showing conservation of function.
Torsin proteins are AAA+ ATPases that localize to the endoplasmic reticular/nuclear envelope (ER/NE) lumen. A mutation that markedly impairs torsinA function causes the CNS disorder DYT1 dystonia. Abnormalities of NE membranes have been linked to torsinA loss of function and the pathogenesis of DYT1 dystonia, leading us to investigate the role of the Caenorhabditis elegans torsinA homologue OOC-5 at the NE. We report a novel role for torsin in nuclear pore biology. In ooc-5–mutant germ cell nuclei, nucleoporins (Nups) were mislocalized in large plaques beginning at meiotic entry and persisted throughout meiosis. Moreover, the KASH protein ZYG-12 was mislocalized in ooc-5 gonads. Nups were mislocalized in adult intestinal nuclei and in embryos from mutant mothers. EM analysis revealed vesicle-like structures in the perinuclear space of intestinal and germ cell nuclei, similar to defects reported in torsin-mutant flies and mice. Consistent with a functional disruption of Nups, ooc-5–mutant embryos displayed impaired nuclear import kinetics, although the nuclear pore-size exclusion barrier was maintained. Our data are the first to demonstrate a requirement for a torsin for normal Nup localization and function and suggest that these functions are likely conserved.
PMCID: PMC4436785  PMID: 25739455
13.  Active Currents Regulate Sensitivity and Dynamic Range in C. elegans Neurons 
Neuron  1998;20(4):763-772.
Little is known about the physiology of neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans. Using new techniques for in situ patch-clamp recording in C. elegans, we analyzed the electrical properties of an identified sensory neuron (ASER) across four developmental stages and 42 unidentified neurons at one stage. We find that ASER is nearly isopotential and fails to generate classical Na+ action potentials. Rather, ASER displays a high sensitivity to input currents coupled to a depolarization-dependent reduction in sensitivity that may endow ASER with a wide dynamic range. Voltage clamp revealed depolarization-activated K+ and Ca2+ currents that contribute to high sensitivity near the zero-current potential. The depolarization-dependent reduction in sensitivity can be attributed to activation of K+ current at voltages where it dominates the net membrane current. The voltage dependence of membrane current was similar in all neurons examined, suggesting that C. elegans neurons share a common mechanism of sensitivity and dynamic range.
PMCID: PMC4444786  PMID: 9581767
14.  The nphp-2 and arl-13 Genetic Modules Interact to Regulate Ciliogenesis and Ciliary Microtubule Patterning in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004866.
Cilia are microtubule-based cellular organelles that mediate signal transduction. Cilia are organized into several structurally and functionally distinct compartments: the basal body, the transition zone (TZ), and the cilia shaft. In vertebrates, the cystoprotein Inversin localizes to a portion of the cilia shaft adjacent to the TZ, a region termed the “Inversin compartment” (InvC). The mechanisms that establish and maintain the InvC are unknown. In the roundworm C. elegans, the cilia shafts of amphid channel and phasmid sensory cilia are subdivided into two regions defined by different microtubule ultrastructure: a proximal doublet-based region adjacent to the TZ, and a distal singlet-based region. It has been suggested that C. elegans cilia also possess an InvC, similarly to mammalian primary cilia. Here we explored the biogenesis, structure, and composition of the C. elegans ciliary doublet region and InvC. We show that the InvC is conserved and distinct from the doublet region. nphp-2 (the C. elegans Inversin homolog) and the doublet region genes arl-13, klp-11, and unc-119 are redundantly required for ciliogenesis. InvC and doublet region genes can be sorted into two modules—nphp-2+klp-11 and arl-13+unc-119—which are both antagonized by the hdac-6 deacetylase. The genes of this network modulate the sizes of the NPHP-2 InvC and ARL-13 doublet region. Glutamylation, a tubulin post-translational modification, is not required for ciliary targeting of InvC and doublet region components; rather, glutamylation is modulated by nphp-2, arl-13, and unc-119. The ciliary targeting and restricted localization of NPHP-2, ARL-13, and UNC-119 does not require TZ-, doublet region, and InvC-associated genes. NPHP-2 does require its calcium binding EF hand domain for targeting to the InvC. We conclude that the C. elegans InvC is distinct from the doublet region, and that components in these two regions interact to regulate ciliogenesis via cilia placement, ciliary microtubule ultrastructure, and protein localization.
Author Summary
Cilia are sensory organelles that are found on most types of human cells and play essential roles in diverse processes ranging from vision and olfaction to embryonic symmetry breaking and kidney development. Individual cilia are divided into multiple functionally and compositionally distinct compartments, including a proximal “Inversin” compartment, which is located near the base of cilia. We used the nematode C. elegans, a well-defined animal model of cilia biology, to characterize the genetics, components, and defining properties of the proximal cilium. The Inversin compartment is conserved in C. elegans, and is established independent of another proximal ciliary region, the microtubule doublet-based region. We showed how components of both the doublet region and the Inversin compartment genetically interact to regulate many pathways linked to core aspects of cilia biology, including ciliogenesis, cilia placement, cilia ultrastructure, microtubule stability, and the protein composition of ciliary compartments. In addition to expanding and clarifying our knowledge of basic cilia biology, these results also have direct implications for human health research because several of the genes and pathways explored in our work are linked to ciliopathies, a group of diseases caused by dysfunctional cilia.
PMCID: PMC4263411  PMID: 25501555
15.  Two Classes of Gap Junction Channels Mediate Soma-Germline Interactions Essential for Germline Proliferation and Gametogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Genetics  2014;198(3):1127-1153.
In all animals examined, somatic cells of the gonad control multiple biological processes essential for germline development. Gap junction channels, composed of connexins in vertebrates and innexins in invertebrates, permit direct intercellular communication between cells and frequently form between somatic gonadal cells and germ cells. Gap junctions comprise hexameric hemichannels in apposing cells that dock to form channels for the exchange of small molecules. Here we report essential roles for two classes of gap junction channels, composed of five innexin proteins, in supporting the proliferation of germline stem cells and gametogenesis in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Transmission electron microscopy of freeze-fracture replicas and fluorescence microscopy show that gap junctions between somatic cells and germ cells are more extensive than previously appreciated and are found throughout the gonad. One class of gap junctions, composed of INX-8 and INX-9 in the soma and INX-14 and INX-21 in the germ line, is required for the proliferation and differentiation of germline stem cells. Genetic epistasis experiments establish a role for these gap junction channels in germline proliferation independent of the glp-1/Notch pathway. A second class of gap junctions, composed of somatic INX-8 and INX-9 and germline INX-14 and INX-22, is required for the negative regulation of oocyte meiotic maturation. Rescue of gap junction channel formation in the stem cell niche rescues germline proliferation and uncovers a later channel requirement for embryonic viability. This analysis reveals gap junctions as a central organizing feature of many soma–germline interactions in C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC4224157  PMID: 25195067
gap junctions; soma–germline interactions; germline stem cells; gametogenesis; oocyte meiotic maturation
16.  Shigella flexneri Infection in Caenorhabditis elegans: Cytopathological Examination and Identification of Host Responses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e106085.
The Gram-negative bacterium Shigella flexneri is the causative agent of shigellosis, a diarrhoeal disease also known as bacillary dysentery. S. flexneri infects the colonic and rectal epithelia of its primate host and induces a cascade of inflammatory responses that culminates in the destruction of the host intestinal lining. Molecular characterization of host-pathogen interactions in this infection has been challenging due to the host specificity of S. flexneri strains, as it strictly infects humans and non-human primates. Recent studies have shown that S. flexneri infects the soil dwelling nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, however, the interactions between S. flexneri and C. elegans at the cellular level and the cause of nematode death are unknown. Here we attempt to gain insight into the complex host-pathogen interactions between S. flexneri and C. elegans. Using transmission electron microscopy, we show that live S. flexneri cells accumulate in the nematode intestinal lumen, produce outer membrane vesicles and invade nematode intestinal cells. Using two-dimensional differential in-gel electrophoresis we identified host proteins that are differentially expressed in response to S. flexneri infection. Four of the identified genes, aco-1, cct-2, daf-19 and hsp-60, were knocked down using RNAi and ACO-1, CCT-2 and DAF-19, which were identified as up-regulated in response to S. flexneri infection, were found to be involved in the infection process. aco-1 RNAi worms were more resistant to S. flexneri infection, suggesting S. flexneri-mediated disruption of host iron homeostasis. cct-2 and daf-19 RNAi worms were more susceptible to infection, suggesting that these genes are induced as a protective mechanism by C. elegans. These observations further our understanding of the processes involved in S. flexneri infection of C. elegans, which is immensely beneficial to the routine use of this new in vivo model to study S. flexneri pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4154869  PMID: 25187942
17.  Intracellular lumen extension requires ERM-1-dependent apical membrane expansion and AQP-8-mediated flux 
Nature cell biology  2013;15(2):143-156.
Many unicellular tubes such as capillaries form lumens intracellularly, a process that is not well understood. Here we show that the cortical membrane organizer ERM-1 is required to expand the intracellular apical/lumenal membrane and its actin undercoat during single-cell C.elegans excretory canal morphogenesis. We characterize AQP-8, identified in an ERM-1 overexpression (ERM-1[++]) suppressor screen, as a canalicular aquaporin that interacts with ERM-1 in lumen extension in a mercury-sensitive manner, implicating water-channel activity. AQP-8 is transiently recruited to the lumen by ERM-1, co-localizing in peri-lumenal cuffs interspaced along expanding canals. An ERM-1[++]-mediated increase in the number of lumen-associated canaliculi is reversed by AQP-8 depletion. We propose that the ERM-1-AQP-8 interaction propels lumen extension by translumenal flux, suggesting a direct morphogenetic effect of water-channel-regulated fluid pressure.
PMCID: PMC4091717  PMID: 23334498
18.  Folliculin Regulates Ampk-Dependent Autophagy and Metabolic Stress Survival 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004273.
Dysregulation of AMPK signaling has been implicated in many human diseases, which emphasizes the importance of characterizing AMPK regulators. The tumor suppressor FLCN, responsible for the Birt-Hogg Dubé renal neoplasia syndrome (BHD), is an AMPK-binding partner but the genetic and functional links between FLCN and AMPK have not been established. Strikingly, the majority of naturally occurring FLCN mutations predisposing to BHD are predicted to produce truncated proteins unable to bind AMPK, pointing to the critical role of this interaction in the tumor suppression mechanism. Here, we demonstrate that FLCN is an evolutionarily conserved negative regulator of AMPK. Using Caenorhabditis elegans and mammalian cells, we show that loss of FLCN results in constitutive activation of AMPK which induces autophagy, inhibits apoptosis, improves cellular bioenergetics, and confers resistance to energy-depleting stresses including oxidative stress, heat, anoxia, and serum deprivation. We further show that AMPK activation conferred by FLCN loss is independent of the cellular energy state suggesting that FLCN controls the AMPK energy sensing ability. Together, our data suggest that FLCN is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of AMPK signaling that may act as a tumor suppressor by negatively regulating AMPK function.
Author Summary
The FLCN gene is responsible for the hereditary human tumor disease called Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome (BHD). Patients that inherit an inactivating mutation in the FLCN gene develop lung collapse as well as tumors in the kidney, colon, and skin. It is not clear yet what the exact function of this protein is in the cell or an organism. In this study, we used a simple model organism (the round worm C. elegans) to study the function of FLCN. We found that it is involved in the regulation of energy metabolism in the cell. FLCN normally binds and blocks the action of another protein (AMPK), which is involved in the maintenance of energy levels. When energy levels fall, AMPK is activated and drives a recycling pathway called autophagy, where cellular components are recycled producing energy. In the absence of FLCN in worms and mammalian cells, like in tumors of BHD patients, AMPK and autophagy are chronically activated leading to an increased energy level, which makes the cells/organism very resistant to many stresses that would normally kill them, which in the end could lead to progression of tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3998892  PMID: 24763318
19.  Six Innexins Contribute to Electrical Coupling of C. elegans Body-Wall Muscle 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76877.
C. elegans body-wall muscle cells are electrically coupled through gap junctions. Previous studies suggest that UNC-9 is an important, but not the only, innexin mediating the electrical coupling. Here we analyzed junctional current (Ij) for mutants of additional innexins to identify the remaining innexin(s) important to the coupling. The results suggest that a total of six innexins contribute to the coupling, including UNC-9, INX-1, INX-10, INX-11, INX-16, and INX-18. The Ij deficiency in each mutant was rescued completely by expressing the corresponding wild-type innexin specifically in muscle, suggesting that the innexins function cell-autonomously. Comparisons of Ij between various single, double, and triple mutants suggest that the six innexins probably form two distinct populations of gap junctions with one population consisting of UNC-9 and INX-18 and the other consisting of the remaining four innexins. Consistent with their roles in muscle electrical coupling, five of the six innexins showed punctate localization at muscle intercellular junctions when expressed as GFP- or epitope-tagged proteins, and muscle expression was detected for four of them when assessed by expressing GFP under the control of innexin promoters. The results may serve as a solid foundation for further explorations of structural and functional properties of gap junctions in C. elegans body-wall muscle.
PMCID: PMC3793928  PMID: 24130800
20.  Neuronal Target Identification Requires AHA-1-Mediated Fine-Tuning of Wnt Signaling in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003618.
Electrical synaptic transmission through gap junctions is a vital mode of intercellular communication in the nervous system. The mechanism by which reciprocal target cells find each other during the formation of gap junctions, however, is poorly understood. Here we show that gap junctions are formed between BDU interneurons and PLM mechanoreceptors in C. elegans and the connectivity of BDU with PLM is influenced by Wnt signaling. We further identified two PAS-bHLH family transcription factors, AHA-1 and AHR-1, which function cell-autonomously within BDU and PLM to facilitate the target identification process. aha-1 and ahr-1 act genetically upstream of cam-1. CAM-1, a membrane-bound receptor tyrosine kinase, is present on both BDU and PLM cells and likely serves as a Wnt antagonist. By binding to a cis-regulatory element in the cam-1 promoter, AHA-1 enhances cam-1 transcription. Our study reveals a Wnt-dependent fine-tuning mechanism that is crucial for mutual target cell identification during the formation of gap junction connections.
Author Summary
The establishment of functional neuronal circuits requires that different neurons respond selectively to guidance molecules at particular times and in specific locations. In the target region, where cells connect, the same guidance molecules steer the growth of neurites from both the neuron and its target cell. The spatial, temporal, and cell-type-specific regulation of neuronal connection needs to be tightly regulated and precisely coordinated within the neuron and its target cell to achieve effective connection. In this study, we found that the precise connectivity of the BDU interneuron and the PLM mechanoreceptor in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans is influenced by Wnt signaling. BDU-PLM contact also depends on the transcription factor AHA-1, which functions within both BDU and PLM cells to enhance transcription of the gene encoding the trans-membrane receptor CAM-1. CAM-1 is present on BDU and PLM and likely serves as a Wnt antagonist, thus linking transcriptional regulation by AHA-1 to modulation of Wnt signaling. Therefore, our study reveals a locally confined, cell type-specific and cell-autonomous mechanism that mediates mutual target identification.
PMCID: PMC3694823  PMID: 23825972
21.  Enzymatic and non-enzymatic activities of the tubulin acetyltransferase MEC-17 are required for microtubule organization and mechanosensation in C. elegans 
Current Biology  2012;22(12):1057-1065.
Microtubules (MTs) are formed from the lateral association of 11–16 protofilament chains of tubulin dimers, with most cells containing 13-protofilament (13-p) MTs. How these different MTs are formed is unknown, although the number of protofilaments may depend on the nature of the α- and β-tubulins.
Here we show that the enzymatic activity of the C. elegans α-tubulin acetyltransferase (α-TAT) MEC-17 allows the production of 15-p MTs in the touch receptor neurons (TRNs) MTs. Without MEC-17, MTs with between 11 and 15 protofilaments are seen. Loss of this enzymatic activity also changes the number and organization of the TRN MTs and affects TRN axonal morphology. In contrast, enzymatically inactive MEC-17 is sufficient for touch sensitivity and proper process outgrowth without correcting the MT defects. Thus, in addition to demonstrating that MEC-17 is required for MT structure and organization, our results suggest that the large number of 15-p MTs, normally found in the TRNs, are not essential for mechanosensation.
These experiments reveal a specific role for α-TAT in the formation of MTs and in the production of higher order MTs arrays. In addition our results indicate that the α-TAT protein has functions that require acetyltransferase activity (such as the determination of protofilament number) and others that do not (presence of internal MT structures).
PMCID: PMC3382010  PMID: 22658602
22.  Computer Assisted Assembly of Connectomes from Electron Micrographs: Application to Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54050.
A rate-limiting step in determining a connectome, the set of all synaptic connections in a nervous system, is extraction of the relevant information from serial electron micrographs. Here we introduce a software application, Elegance, that speeds acquisition of the minimal dataset necessary, allowing the discovery of new connectomes. We have used Elegance to obtain new connectivity data in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. We analyze the accuracy that can be obtained, which is limited by unresolvable ambiguities at some locations in electron microscopic images. Elegance is useful for reconstructing connectivity in any region of neuropil of sufficiently small size.
PMCID: PMC3546938  PMID: 23342070
23.  Neurite Sprouting and Synapse Deterioration in the Aging C. elegans Nervous System 
C. elegans is a powerful model for analysis of the conserved mechanisms that modulate healthy aging. In the aging nematode nervous system, neuronal death and/or detectable loss of processes are not readily apparent, but because dendrite restructuring and loss of synaptic integrity are hypothesized to contribute to human brain decline and dysfunction, we combined fluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy (EM) to screen at high resolution for nervous system changes. We report two major components of morphological change in the aging C. elegans nervous system: 1) accumulation of novel outgrowths from specific neurons, and 2) physical decline in synaptic integrity. Novel outgrowth phenotypes, including branching from the main dendrite or new growth from somata, appear at a high frequency in some aging neurons, but not all. Mitochondria are often associated with age-associated branch sites. Lowered insulin signaling confers some maintenance of ALM and PLM neuron structural integrity into old age, and both DAF-16/FOXO and heat shock factor transcription factor HSF-1 exert neuroprotective functions. hsf-1 can act cell autonomously in this capacity. EM evaluation in synapse-rich regions reveals a striking decline in synaptic vesicle numbers and a dimunition of presynaptic density size. Interestingly, old animals that maintain locomotory prowess exhibit less synaptic decline than same-age decrepit animals, suggesting that synaptic integrity correlates with locomotory healthspan. Our data reveal similarities between the aging C. elegans nervous system and mammalian brain, suggesting conserved neuronal responses to age. Dissection of neuronal aging mechanisms in C. elegans may thus influence the development of brain healthspan-extending therapies.
PMCID: PMC3427745  PMID: 22745480
24.  How does morphology relate to function in sensory arbors? 
Trends in neurosciences  2011;34(9):443-451.
Sensory dendrites fall into many different morphological and functional classes. Polymodal nociceptors are one subclass of sensory neurons, which are of particular note due to their elaborate dendritic arbors. Complex developmental programs are required to form these arbors, and there is striking conservation of morphology, function, and molecular determinants between vertebrate and invertebrate polymodal nociceptors. Based on these studies, we argue that arbor morphology plays an important role in the function of polymodal nociceptors. Similar associations between form and function may explain the plethora of dendrite morphologies seen among all sensory neurons.
PMCID: PMC3166259  PMID: 21840610
25.  Loss of intestinal nuclei and intestinal integrity in aging C. elegans 
Aging cell  2011;10(4):699-710.
The roundworm C. elegans is widely used as an aging model, with hundreds of genes identified that modulate aging(Kaeberlein et al. 2002). The development and bodyplan of the 959 cells comprising the adult have been well described and established for more than 25 years(Sulston & Horvitz 1977; Sulston et al. 1983). However, morphological changes with age in this optically transparent animal are less well understood, with only a handful of studies investigating the pathobiology of aging. Age related changes in muscle(Herndon et al. 2002), neurons(Herndon et al. 2002), intestine and yolk granules(Garigan et al. 2002; Herndon et al. 2002), nuclear architecture(Haithcock et al. 2005), tail nuclei(Golden et al. 2007), and the germline(Golden et al. 2007) have been observed via a variety of traditional relatively low-throughput methods. We report here a number of novel approaches to study the pathobiology of aging C. elegans. We combined histological staining of serial-sectioned tissues, transmission electron microscopy, and confocal microscopy with 3-D volumetric reconstructions, and characterized age-related morphological changes of multiple wild-type individuals at different ages. This enabled us to identify several novel pathologies with age in the C. elegans intestine, including loss of critical nuclei, degradation of intestinal microvilli, changes in the size, shape, and cytoplasmic contents of the intestine, and altered morphologies due to ingested bacteria. The three-dimensional models we have created of tissues and cellular components from multiple individuals of different ages, represent a unique resource to demonstrate global heterogeneity of a multi-cellular organism.
PMCID: PMC3135675  PMID: 21501374

Results 1-25 (46)