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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Axonal fusion; axonal regeneration; C. elegans; axonal degeneration
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.
C. elegans; autophagy; endocytosis; lysosomes
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.
C. elegans; autophagy; endocytosis; lysosomes
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.
PVD and FLP sensory neurons envelope the body of the C. elegans adult with a highly branched network of thin sensory processes. Both PVD and FLP neurons are mechanosensors. PVD is known to mediate the response to high threshold mechanical stimuli. Thus PVD and FLP neurons are similar in both morphology and function to mammalian nociceptors. To better understand the function of these neurons we generated strains lacking them. Behavioral analysis shows that PVD and FLP regulate movement under normal growth conditions, as animals lacking these neurons demonstrate higher dwelling behavior. In addition, PVD—whose thin branches project across the body-wall muscles—may have a role in proprioception, as ablation of PVD leads to defective posture. Moreover, movement-dependent calcium transients are seen in PVD, a response that requires MEC-10, a subunit of the mechanosensory DEG/ENaC channel that is also required for maintaining wild-type posture. Hence, PVD senses both noxious and innocuous signals to regulate C. elegans behavior, and thus combines the functions of multiple mammalian somatosensory neurons. Finally, strong mechanical stimulation leads to inhibition of egg-laying, and this response also depends on PVD and FLP neurons. Based on all these results we suggest that noxious signals perceived by PVD and FLP promote an escape behavior consisting of increased speed, reduced pauses and reversals, and inhibition of egg-laying.
C. elegans; somatosensory system; nociceptor; proprioceptor; behavior; movement
The mechanisms controlling the formation and maintenance of neuronal trees are poorly understood. We examined the dynamic development of two arborized mechanoreceptor neurons (PVDs) required for reception of strong mechanical stimuli in Caenorhabditis elegans. The PVDs elaborated dendritic trees comprising structural units we call “menorahs.” We studied how the number, structure, and function of menorahs were maintained. EFF-1, an essential protein mediating cell fusion, acted autonomously in the PVDs to trim developing menorahs. eff-1 mutants displayed hyperbranched, disorganized menorahs. Overexpression of EFF-1 in the PVD reduced branching. Neuronal pruning appeared to involve EFF-1–dependent branch retraction and neurite-neurite autofusion. Thus, EFF-1 activities may act as a quality control mechanism during the sculpting of dendritic trees.
Despite recent interest in reconstructing neuronal networks, complete wiring diagrams on the level of individual synapses remain scarce and the insights into function they can provide remain unclear. Even for Caenorhabditis elegans, whose neuronal network is relatively small and stereotypical from animal to animal, published wiring diagrams are neither accurate nor complete and self-consistent. Using materials from White et al. and new electron micrographs we assemble whole, self-consistent gap junction and chemical synapse networks of hermaphrodite C. elegans. We propose a method to visualize the wiring diagram, which reflects network signal flow. We calculate statistical and topological properties of the network, such as degree distributions, synaptic multiplicities, and small-world properties, that help in understanding network signal propagation. We identify neurons that may play central roles in information processing, and network motifs that could serve as functional modules of the network. We explore propagation of neuronal activity in response to sensory or artificial stimulation using linear systems theory and find several activity patterns that could serve as substrates of previously described behaviors. Finally, we analyze the interaction between the gap junction and the chemical synapse networks. Since several statistical properties of the C. elegans network, such as multiplicity and motif distributions are similar to those found in mammalian neocortex, they likely point to general principles of neuronal networks. The wiring diagram reported here can help in understanding the mechanistic basis of behavior by generating predictions about future experiments involving genetic perturbations, laser ablations, or monitoring propagation of neuronal activity in response to stimulation.
Connectomics, the generation and analysis of neuronal connectivity data, stands to revolutionize neurobiology just as genomics has revolutionized molecular biology. Indeed, since neuronal networks are the physical substrates upon which neural functions are carried out, their structural properties are intertwined with the organization and logic of function. In this paper, we report a near-complete wiring diagram of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and present several analyses of its properties, finding many nonrandom features. We give novel visualizations and compute network statistics to enhance understanding of the reported data. We also use principled systems-theoretic methods to generate hypotheses on how biological function may arise from the reported neuronal network structure. The wiring diagram reported here can further be used to generate predictions about signal propagation in future perturbation, ablation, or artificial stimulation experiments.
Unicellular tubes or capillaries composed of individual cells with a hollow lumen perform important physiological functions including fluid or gas transport and exchange. These tubes are thought to build intracellular lumina by polarized trafficking of apical membrane components, but the molecular signals that promote luminal growth and luminal connectivity between cells are poorly understood. Here we show that the lipocalin LPR-1 is required for luminal connectivity between two unicellular tubes in the Caenorhabditis elegans excretory (renal) system, the excretory duct cell and pore cell. Lipocalins are a large family of secreted proteins that transport lipophilic cargos and participate in intercellular signaling. lpr-1 is required at a time of rapid luminal growth, it is expressed by the duct, pore and surrounding cells, and it can function cell nonautonomously. These results reveal a novel signaling mechanism that controls unicellular tube formation, and provide a genetic model system for dissecting lipocalin signaling pathways.
Lipocalin; Tubulogenesis; Intercellular signaling; lpr-1; Excretory
The innexin family of gap junction proteins has 25 members in Caenorhabditis elegans. Here, we describe the first high-resolution expression map of all members through analysis of live worms transformed with green fluorescent protein under the control of entire promoter regions. Our analyses show that innexins have dynamic expression patterns throughout development and are found in virtually all cell types and tissues. Complex tissues, such as the pharynx, intestine, gonad, as well as scaffolding tissues and guidepost cells express a variety of innexins in overlapping or complementary patterns, suggesting they may form heteromeric and heterotypic channels. Innexin expression occurs in several types of cells that are not known to form gap junctions as well as in a pair of migrating cells, suggesting they may have hemichannel function. Therefore, innexins likely play roles in almost all body functions, including embryonic development, cell fate determination, oogenesis, egg laying, pharyngeal pumping, excretion, and locomotion.
C. elegans; innexin; gap junction; intercellular signaling; electrical coupling
The C. elegans eat-6 gene encodes a Na+, K+-ATPase α subunit and is a homolog of the familial hemiplegic migraine candidate gene FHM2. Migraine is the most common neurological disorder linked to serotonergic dysfunction. We sought to study the pathophysiological mechanisms of migraine and their relation to serotonin (5-HT) signaling using C. elegans as a genetic model. In C. elegans, exogenous 5-HT inhibits paralysis induced by the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb. We found that the eat-6(ad467) mutation or RNAi of eat-6 increases aldicarb sensitivity and causes complete resistance to 5-HT treatment, indicating that EAT-6 is a component of the pathway that couples 5-HT signaling and ACh neurotransmission. While a postsynaptic role of EAT-6 at the bodywall NMJs has been well established, we found that EAT-6 may in addition regulate presynaptic ACh neurotransmission. We show that eat-6 is expressed in ventral cord ACh motor neurons, and that cell-specific RNAi of eat-6 in the ACh neurons leads to hypersensitivity to aldicarb. Electron microscopy showed an increased number of synaptic vesicles in the ACh neurons in the eat-6(ad467) mutant. Genetic analyses suggest that EAT-6 interacts with EGL-30 Gαq, EGL-8 phospholipase C and SLO-1 BK channel signaling to modulate ACh neurotransmission and that either reduced or excessive EAT-6 function may lead to increased ACh neurotransmission. Study of the interaction between eat-6 and 5-HT receptors revealed both stimulatory and inhibitory 5-HT inputs to the NMJs. We show that the inhibitory and stimulatory 5-HT signals arise from distinct 5-HT neurons. The role of eat-6 in modulation of excitatory neurotransmission by 5-HT may provide a genetic explanation for the therapeutic effects of the drugs targeting 5-HT receptors in the treatment of migraine patients.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caenorhabditis elegans; cell-adhesion; extracellular matrix receptors; epidermis; intermediate filaments