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1.  Genome-Wide Identification of Binding Sites Defines Distinct Functions for Caenorhabditis elegans PHA-4/FOXA in Development and Environmental Response 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(2):e1000848.
Transcription factors are key components of regulatory networks that control development, as well as the response to environmental stimuli. We have established an experimental pipeline in Caenorhabditis elegans that permits global identification of the binding sites for transcription factors using chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing. We describe and validate this strategy, and apply it to the transcription factor PHA-4, which plays critical roles in organ development and other cellular processes. We identified thousands of binding sites for PHA-4 during formation of the embryonic pharynx, and also found a role for this factor during the starvation response. Many binding sites were found to shift dramatically between embryos and starved larvae, from developmentally regulated genes to genes involved in metabolism. These results indicate distinct roles for this regulator in two different biological processes and demonstrate the versatility of transcription factors in mediating diverse biological roles.
Author Summary
The C. elegans transcription factor PHA-4 is a member of the highly conserved FOXA family of transcription factors. These factors act as master regulators of organ development by controlling how genes are turned off and on as tissues are formed. Additionally they regulate genes in response to nutrient levels and control both longevity and survival of the organism. However, the extent to which these factors control similar or distinct gene targets for each of these functions is unknown. For this reason, we have used the technique of chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by deep sequencing (ChIP–Seq), to define the target binding sites of PHA-4 on a genome-wide scale, when it is either functioning as an organ identity regulator or in response to environmental stress. Our data clearly demonstrate distinct sets of biologically relevant target genes for the transcription factor PHA-4 under these two different conditions. Not only have we defined PHA-4 targets, but we established an experimental ChIP–Seq pipeline to facilitate the identification of binding sites for many transcription factors in the future.
PMCID: PMC2824807  PMID: 20174564
2.  Genetic Regulation of Unsaturated Fatty Acid Composition in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(7):e108.
Delta-9 desaturases, also known as stearoyl-CoA desaturases, are lipogenic enzymes responsible for the generation of vital components of membranes and energy storage molecules. We have identified a novel nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-80, that regulates delta-9 desaturase gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we describe fatty acid compositions, lifespans, and gene expression studies of strains carrying mutations in nhr-80 and in the three genes encoding delta-9 desaturases, fat-5, fat-6, and fat-7. The delta-9 desaturase single mutants display only subtle changes in fatty acid composition and no other visible phenotypes, yet the fat-5;fat-6;fat-7 triple mutant is lethal, revealing that endogenous production of monounsaturated fatty acids is essential for survival. In the absence of FAT-6 or FAT-7, the expression of the remaining desaturases increases, and this ability to compensate depends on NHR-80. We conclude that, like mammals, C. elegans requires adequate synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids and maintains complex regulation of the delta-9 desaturases to achieve optimal fatty acid composition.
The ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids has a profound affect on the fluidity and function of cellular membranes. Animals, plants, and microorganisms regulate the synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids during changing environmental conditions, as well as in response to dietary nutrients. In this paper the authors use a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to address the regulation of unsaturated fatty acid synthesis in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. They identify a new transcription factor, NHR-80, that activates the expression of genes encoding delta-9 fatty acid desaturases, the enzymes responsible for catalyzing the insertion of double bonds into saturated fatty acid chains. These unsaturated fatty acids are critical components of membranes, as well as fat storage molecules. Experiments presented here demonstrate that the worms require adequate synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids for survival and that they maintain intricate regulation of the three delta-9 desaturase genes in response to different nutrients. Abnormalities in lipid metabolism lead to obesity and diabetes in humans; this study contributes to our understanding of the regulation of this metabolic pathway.
PMCID: PMC1500810  PMID: 16839188

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