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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  Axonal regeneration proceeds through specific axonal fusion in transected C. elegans neurons 
Functional neuronal recovery following injury arises when severed axons reconnect with their targets. In C. elegans following laser-induced axotomy, the axon still attached to the cell body is able to regrow and reconnect with its separated distal fragment. Here we show that reconnection of separated axon fragments during regeneration of C. elegans mechanosensory neurons occurs through a mechanism of axonal fusion, which prevents Wallerian degeneration of the distal fragment. Through electron microscopy analysis and imaging with the photoconvertible fluorescent protein Kaede, we show that the fusion process re-establishes membrane continuity and repristinates anterograde and retrograde cytoplasmic diffusion. We also provide evidence that axonal fusion occurs with a remarkable level of accuracy, with the proximal re-growing axon recognizing its own separated distal fragment. Thus, efficient axonal regeneration can occur by selective reconnection and fusion of separated axonal fragments beyond an injury site, with restoration of the damaged neuronal tract.
PMCID: PMC3092806  PMID: 21416556
Axonal fusion; axonal regeneration; C. elegans; axonal degeneration
10.  The Atg6/Vps30/Beclin1 ortholog BEC-1 mediates endocytic retrograde transport in addition to autophagy in C. elegans 
Autophagy  2011;7(4):386-400.
Autophagy and endocytosis are dynamic and tightly regulated processes that contribute to many fundamental aspects of biology including survival, longevity and development. However, the molecular links between autophagy and endocytosis are not well understood. Here, we report that BEC-1, the C. elegans ortholog of Atg6/Vps30/Beclin1, a key regulator of the autophagic machinery, also contributes to endosome function. In particular we identified a defect in retrograde transport from endosomes to the Golgi in bec-1 mutants. MIG-14/Wntless is normally recycled from endosomes to the Golgi through the action of the retromer complex and its associated factor RME-8. Lack of retromer or RME-8 activity results in the aberrant transport of MIG-14/Wntless to the lysosome where it is degraded. similarly, we found that lack of bec-1 also results in mislocalization and degradation of MIG-14∷GFP, reduced levels of RME-8 on endosomal membranes, and the accumulation of morphologically abnormal endosomes. A similar phenotype was observed in animals treated with dsRNA against vps-34. We further identified a requirement for BEC-1 in the clearance of apoptotic corpses in the hermaphrodite gonad, suggesting a role for BEC-1 in phagosome maturation, a process that appears to depend upon retrograde transport. In addition, autophagy genes may also be required for cell corpse clearance, as we found that RNAi against atg-18 or unc-51 also results in a lack of cell corpse clearance.
PMCID: PMC3108013  PMID: 21183797
C. elegans; autophagy; endocytosis; lysosomes
11.  The Atg6/Vps30/Beclin 1 ortholog BEC-1 mediates endocytic retrograde transport in addition to autophagy in C. elegans 
Autophagy  2011;7(4):386-400.
Autophagy and endocytosis are dynamic and tightly regulated processes that contribute to many fundamental aspects of biology including survival, longevity and development. However, the molecular links between autophagy and endocytosis are not well understood. Here, we report that BEC-1, the C. elegans ortholog of Atg6/Vps30/Beclin 1, a key regulator of the autophagic machinery, also contributes to endosome function. In particular we identified a defect in retrograde transport from endosomes to the Golgi in bec-1 mutants. MIG-14/Wntless is normally recycled from endosomes to the Golgi through the action of the retromer complex and its associated factor RME-8. Lack of retromer or RME-8 activity results in the aberrant transport of MIG-14/Wntless to the lysosome where it is degraded. Similarly, we found that lack of bec-1 also results in mislocalization and degradation of MIG-14::GFP, reduced levels of RME-8 on endosomal membranes, and the accumulation of morphologically abnormal endosomes. A similar phenotype was observed in animals treated with dsRNA against vps-34. We further identified a requirement for BEC-1 in the clearance of apoptotic corpses in the hermaphrodite gonad, suggesting a role for BEC-1 in phagosome maturation, a process that appears to depend upon retrograde transport. In addition, autophagy genes may also be required for cell corpse clearance, as we found that RNAi against atg-18 or unc-51 also results in a lack of cell corpse clearance.
PMCID: PMC3108013  PMID: 21183797
C. elegans; autophagy; endocytosis; lysosomes
12.  Apicobasal domain identities of expanding tubular membranes depend on glycosphingolipid biosynthesis 
Nature Cell Biology  2011;13(10):1189-1201.
Metazoan internal organs are assembled from polarized tubular epithelia that must set aside an apical membrane domain as a lumenal surface. In a global Caenorhabditis elegans tubulogenesis screen, interference with several distinct fatty-acid-biosynthetic enzymes transformed a contiguous central intestinal lumen into multiple ectopic lumens. We show that multiple-lumen formation is caused by apicobasal polarity conversion, and demonstrate that in situ modulation of lipid biosynthesis is sufficient to reversibly switch apical domain identities on growing membranes of single postmitotic cells, shifting lumen positions. Follow-on targeted lipid-biosynthesis pathway screens and functional genetic assays were designed to identify a putative single causative lipid species. They demonstrate that fatty-acid biosynthesis affects polarity via sphingolipid synthesis, and reveal ceramideglucosyltransferases (CGTs) as endpoint biosynthetic enzymes in this pathway. Our findings identify glycosphingolipids (GSLs), CGT products and obligate membrane lipids, as critical determinants of in vivo polarity and suggest they sort new components to the expanding apical membrane.
PMCID: PMC3249144  PMID: 21926990
13.  A ZYG-12–dynein interaction at the nuclear envelope defines cytoskeletal architecture in the C. elegans gonad 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2009;186(2):229-241.
Changes in cellular microtubule organization often accompany developmental progression. In the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo, the centrosome, which is attached to the nucleus via ZYG-12, organizes the microtubule network. In this study, we investigate ZYG-12 function and microtubule organization before embryo formation in the gonad. Surprisingly, ZYG-12 is dispensable for centrosome attachment in the germline. However, ZYG-12–mediated recruitment of dynein to the nuclear envelope is required to maintain microtubule organization, membrane architecture, and nuclear positioning within the syncytial gonad. We examined γ-tubulin localization and microtubule regrowth after depolymerization to identify sites of nucleation in germ cells. γ-Tubulin localizes to the plasma membrane in addition to the centrosome, and regrowth initiates at both sites. Because we do not observe organized microtubules around zyg-12(ct350) mutant nuclei with attached centrosomes, we propose that gonad architecture, including membrane and nuclear positioning, is determined by microtubule nucleation at the plasma membrane combined with tension on the microtubules by dynein anchored at the nucleus by ZYG-12.
PMCID: PMC2717649  PMID: 19635841
14.  An ALS-Linked Mutant SOD1 Produces a Locomotor Defect Associated with Aggregation and Synaptic Dysfunction When Expressed in Neurons of Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(1):e1000350.
The nature of toxic effects exerted on neurons by misfolded proteins, occurring in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, is poorly understood. One approach to this problem is to measure effects when such proteins are expressed in heterologous neurons. We report on effects of an ALS-associated, misfolding-prone mutant human SOD1, G85R, when expressed in the neurons of Caenorhabditis elegans. Stable mutant transgenic animals, but not wild-type human SOD1 transgenics, exhibited a strong locomotor defect associated with the presence, specifically in mutant animals, of both soluble oligomers and insoluble aggregates of G85R protein. A whole-genome RNAi screen identified chaperones and other components whose deficiency increased aggregation and further diminished locomotion. The nature of the locomotor defect was investigated. Mutant animals were resistant to paralysis by the cholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb, while exhibiting normal sensitivity to the cholinergic agonist levamisole and normal muscle morphology. When fluorescently labeled presynaptic components were examined in the dorsal nerve cord, decreased numbers of puncta corresponding to neuromuscular junctions were observed in mutant animals and brightness was also diminished. At the EM level, mutant animals exhibited a reduced number of synaptic vesicles. Neurotoxicity in this system thus appears to be mediated by misfolded SOD1 and is exerted on synaptic vesicle biogenesis and/or trafficking.
Author Summary
A new animal model of the human neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; Lou Gehrig's Disease) is presented. Two percent of ALS cases result from heritable mutations affecting the abundant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD1). Such mutations have been indicated to impair the folding and stability of the enzyme, leading it to misfold and aggregate in motor neurons, associated with the paralyzing disease. Here, when a mutant form of human SOD1 was produced in neurons of C. elegans worms, it led to a severe locomotor defect—the worms were essentially paralyzed. The protein formed aggregates in the neurons, including an intermediate form of aggregate, soluble oligomers, that has been linked to toxicity to cells. By contrast, worms expressing the normal version of human SOD1 protein exhibited normal movement and no aggregation. The movement defect was further analyzed using chemical inhibitors and found to result from defective function of synapses, the connections made between neurons, and between neurons and muscle. Finally, in a screen using RNA interference, we observed that the worms' aggregation and locomotor condition was worsened when a class of molecules called molecular chaperones, which assist protein folding in the cell, were impaired in function. This is consistent with the idea that misfolded SOD1 is directly involved with causing the neuronal dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC2621352  PMID: 19165329
15.  Cell Invasion and Matricide during Photorhabdus luminescens Transmission by Heterorhabditis bacteriophora Nematodes▿ †  
Many animals and plants have symbiotic relationships with beneficial bacteria. Experimentally tractable models are necessary to understand the processes involved in the selective transmission of symbiotic bacteria. One such model is the transmission of the insect-pathogenic bacterial symbionts Photorhabdus spp. by Heterorhabditis bacteriophora infective juvenile (IJ)-stage nematodes. By observing egg-laying behavior and IJ development, it was determined that IJs develop exclusively via intrauterine hatching and matricide (i.e., endotokia matricida). By transiently exposing nematodes to fluorescently labeled symbionts, it was determined that symbionts infect the maternal intestine as a biofilm and then invade and breach the rectal gland epithelium, becoming available to the IJ offspring developing in the pseudocoelom. Cell- and stage-specific infection occurs again in the pre-IJ pharyngeal intestinal valve cells, which helps symbionts to persist as IJs develop and move to a new host. Synchronous with nematode development are changes in symbiont and host behavior (e.g., adherence versus invasion). Thus, Photorhabdus symbionts are maternally transmitted by an elaborate infectious process involving multiple selective steps in order to achieve symbiont-specific transmission.
PMCID: PMC2293164  PMID: 18281425
16.  The Caenorhabditis elegans nephrocystins act as global modifiers of cilium structure 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2008;180(5):973-988.
Nephronophthisis (NPHP) is the most common genetic cause of end-stage renal disease in children and young adults. In Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Caenorhabditis elegans, and mammals, the NPHP1 and NPHP4 gene products nephrocystin-1 and nephrocystin-4 localize to basal bodies or ciliary transition zones (TZs), but their function in this location remains unknown. We show here that loss of C. elegans NPHP-1 and NPHP-4 from TZs is tolerated in developing cilia but causes changes in localization of specific ciliary components and a broad range of subtle axonemal ultrastructural defects. In amphid channel cilia, nphp-4 mutations cause B tubule defects that further disrupt intraflagellar transport (IFT). We propose that NPHP-1 and NPHP-4 act globally at the TZ to regulate ciliary access of the IFT machinery, axonemal structural components, and signaling molecules, and that perturbing this balance results in cell type–specific phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC2265406  PMID: 18316409
17.  Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Influence Synaptojanin Localization to Regulate Synaptic Vesicle Recycling 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2008;19(3):833-842.
The lipid polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly enriched in synaptic membranes, including synaptic vesicles, but their precise function there is unknown. Caenorhabditis elegans fat-3 mutants lack long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs); they release abnormally low levels of serotonin and acetylcholine and are depleted of synaptic vesicles, but the mechanistic basis of these defects is unclear. Here we demonstrate that synaptic vesicle endocytosis is impaired in the mutants: the synaptic vesicle protein synaptobrevin is not efficiently retrieved after synaptic vesicles fuse with the presynaptic membrane, and the presynaptic terminals contain abnormally large endosomal-like compartments and synaptic vesicles. Moreover, the mutants have abnormally low levels of the phosphoinositide phosphatase synaptojanin at release sites and accumulate the main synaptojanin substrate phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate at these sites. Both synaptobrevin and synaptojanin mislocalization can be rescued by providing exogenous arachidonic acid, an LC-PUFA, suggesting that the endocytosis defect is caused by LC-PUFA depletion. By showing that the genes fat-3 and synaptojanin act in the same endocytic pathway at synapses, our findings suggest that LC-PUFAs are required for efficient synaptic vesicle recycling, probably by modulating synaptojanin localization at synapses.
PMCID: PMC2262990  PMID: 18094048
18.  Developmental genetics of the C. elegans pharyngeal neurons NSML and NSMR 
We are interested in understanding how the twenty neurons of the C. elegans pharynx develop in an intricate yet reproducible way within the narrow confines of the embryonic pharyngeal primordium. To complement an earlier study of the pharyngeal M2 motorneurons, we have now examined the effect of almost forty mutations on the morphology of a bilateral pair of pharyngeal neurosecretory-motor neurons, the NSMs.
A careful description of the NSM morphology led to the discovery of a third, hitherto unreported process originating from the NSM cell body and that is likely to play a proprioceptive function. We found that the three NSM processes are differently sensitive to mutations. The major dorsal branch was most sensitive to mutations that affect growth cone guidance and function (e.g. unc-6, unc-34, unc-73), while the major sub-ventral branch was more sensitive to mutations that affect components of the extracellular matrix (e.g. sdn-1). Of the tested mutations, only unc-101, which affects an adaptin, caused the loss of the newly described thin minor process. The major processes developed synaptic branches post-embryonically, and these exhibited activity-dependent plasticity.
By studying the effects of nearly forty different mutations we have learned that the different NSM processes require different genes for their proper guidance and use both growth cone dependent and growth cone independent mechanisms for establishing their proper trajectories. The two major NSM processes develop in a growth cone dependent manner, although the sub-ventral process relies more on substrate adhesion. The minor process also uses growth cones but uniquely develops using a mechanism that depends on the clathrin adaptor molecule UNC-101. Together with the guidance of the M2 neuron, this is the second case of a pharyngeal neuron establishing one of its processes using an unexpected mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2375884  PMID: 18400083
19.  The twisted pharynx phenotype in C. elegans 
The pharynx of C. elegans is an epithelial tube whose development has been compared to that of the embryonic heart and the kidney and hence serves as an interesting model for organ development. Several C. elegans mutants have been reported to exhibit a twisted pharynx phenotype but no careful studies have been made to directly address this phenomenon. In this study, the twisting mutants dig-1, mig-4, mnm-4 and unc-61 are examined in detail and the nature of the twist is investigated.
We find that the twisting phenotype worsens throughout larval development, that in most mutants the pharynx retains its twist when dissected away from the worm body, and that double mutants between mnm-4 and mutants with thickened pharyngeal domains (pha-2 and sma-1) have less twisting in these regions. We also describe the ultrastructure of pharyngeal tendinous organs that connect the pharyngeal basal lamina to that of the body wall, and show that these are pulled into a spiral orientation by twisted pharynges. Within twisted pharynges, actin filaments also show twisting and are longer than in controls. In a mini screen of adhesionmolecule mutants, we also identified one more twisting pharynx mutant, sax-7.
Defects in pharyngeal cytoskeleton length or its anchor points to the extracellular matrix are proposed as the actual source of the twisting force. The twisted pharynx is a useful and easy-to-score phenotype for genes required in extracellular adhesion or organ attachment, and perhaps forgenes required for cytoskeleton regulation.
PMCID: PMC1904197  PMID: 17540043
20.  Genetic Control of Fusion Pore Expansion in the Epidermis of Caenorhabditis elegans 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2007;18(4):1153-1166.
Developmental cell fusion is found in germlines, muscles, bones, placentae, and stem cells. In Caenorhabditis elegans 300 somatic cells fuse during development. Although there is extensive information on the early intermediates of viral-induced and intracellular membrane fusion, little is known about late stages in membrane fusion. To dissect the pathway of cell fusion in C. elegans embryos, we use genetic and kinetic analyses using live-confocal and electron microscopy. We simultaneously monitor the rates of multiple cell fusions in developing embryos and find kinetically distinct stages of initiation and completion of membrane fusion in the epidermis. The stages of cell fusion are differentially blocked or retarded in eff-1 and idf-1 mutants. We generate kinetic cell fusion maps for embryos grown at different temperatures. Different sides of the same cell differ in their fusogenicity: the left and right membrane domains are fusion-incompetent, whereas the anterior and posterior membrane domains fuse with autonomous kinetics in embryos. All but one cell pair can initiate the formation of the largest syncytium. The first cell fusion does not trigger a wave of orderly fusions in either direction. Ultrastructural studies show that epidermal syncytiogenesis require eff-1 activities to initiate and expand membrane merger.
PMCID: PMC1838987  PMID: 17229888
21.  mua-3, a gene required for mechanical tissue integrity in Caenorhabditis elegans, encodes a novel transmembrane protein of epithelial attachment complexes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2001;154(2):415-426.
Normal locomotion of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans requires transmission of contractile force through a series of mechanical linkages from the myofibrillar lattice of the body wall muscles, across an intervening extracellular matrix and epithelium (the hypodermis) to the cuticle. Mutations in mua-3 cause a separation of the hypodermis from the cuticle, suggesting this gene is required for maintaining hypodermal–cuticle attachment as the animal grows in size postembryonically. mua-3 encodes a predicted 3,767 amino acid protein with a large extracellular domain, a single transmembrane helix, and a smaller cytoplasmic domain. The extracellular domain contains four distinct protein modules: 5 low density lipoprotein type A, 52 epidermal growth factor, 1 von Willebrand factor A, and 2 sea urchin-enterokinase-agrin modules. MUA-3 localizes to the hypodermal hemidesmosomes and to other sites of mechanically robust transepithelial attachments, including the rectum, vulva, mechanosensory neurons, and excretory duct/pore. In addition, it is shown that MUA-3 colocalizes with cytoplasmic intermediate filaments (IFs) at these sites. Thus, MUA-3 appears to be a protein that links the IF cytoskeleton of nematode epithelia to the cuticle at sites of mechanical stress.
PMCID: PMC2150771  PMID: 11470828
Caenorhabditis elegans; cell-adhesion; extracellular matrix receptors; epidermis; intermediate filaments
22.  Targeting of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum Membrane Proteins and Ribosomes in Invertebrate Neurons 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2002;13(5):1778-1791.
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is divided into rough and smooth domains (RER and SER). The two domains share most proteins, but RER is enriched in some membrane proteins by an unknown mechanism. We studied RER protein targeting by expressing fluorescent protein fusions to ER membrane proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans. In several cell types RER and general ER proteins colocalized, but in neurons RER proteins were concentrated in the cell body, whereas general ER proteins were also found in neurites. Surprisingly RER membrane proteins diffused rapidly within the cell body, indicating they are not localized by immobilization. Ribosomes were also concentrated in the cell body, suggesting they may be in part responsible for targeting RER membrane proteins.
PMCID: PMC111143  PMID: 12006669

Results 1-22 (22)