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1.  Insulin/IGF1 Signaling Inhibits Age-Dependent Axon Regeneration 
Neuron  2014;81(3):561-573.
The ability of injured axons to regenerate declines with age yet the mechanisms that regulate axon regeneration in response to age are not known. Here we show that axon regeneration in aging C. elegans motor neurons is inhibited by the conserved insulin/IGF1 receptor DAF-2. DAF-2’s function in regeneration is mediated by intrinsic neuronal activity of the forkhead transcription factor DAF-16/FOXO. DAF-16 regulates regeneration independently of lifespan, indicating that neuronal aging is an intrinsic, neuron specific, and genetically regulated process. In addition, we found that daf-18/PTEN inhibits regeneration independently of age and FOXO signaling, via the TOR pathway. Finally, DLK-1, a conserved regulator of regeneration, is downregulated by insulin/IGF1 signaling, bound by DAF-16 in neurons, and is required for both DAF-16- and DAF-18-mediated regeneration. Together, our data establish that insulin signaling specifically inhibits regeneration in aging adult neurons, and that this mechanism is independent of PTEN and TOR.
PMCID: PMC3924874  PMID: 24440228
2.  Homeland security in the C. elegans germ line 
Epigenetics  2013;9(1):62-74.
While most eukaryotic genomes contain transposable elements that can provide select evolutionary advantages to a given organism, failure to tightly control the mobility of such transposable elements can result in compromised genomic integrity of both parental and subsequent generations. Together with the Piwi subfamily of Argonaute proteins, small, non-coding Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) primarily function in the germ line to defend the genome against the potentially deleterious effects that can be caused by transposition. Here, we describe recent discoveries concerning the biogenesis and function of piRNAs in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, illuminating how the faithful production of these mature species can impart a robust defense mechanism for the germ line to counteract problems caused by foreign genetic elements across successive generations by contributing to the epigenetic memory of non-self vs. self.
PMCID: PMC3928187  PMID: 24149573
piRNA/21U-RNA; Piwi/PRG-1; 22G-RNA; Argonaute proteins; biogenesis; transgenerational silencing; epigenetics; C. elegans; germ line
3.  X-chromosome silencing in the germline of C. elegans 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2002;129(2):479-492.
Germline maintenance in the nematode C. elegans requires global repressive mechanisms that involve chromatin organization. During meiosis, the X chromosome in both sexes exhibits a striking reduction of histone modifications that correlate with transcriptional activation when compared with the genome as a whole. The histone modification spectrum on the X chromosome corresponds with a lack of transcriptional competence, as measured by reporter transgene arrays. The X chromosome in XO males is structurally analogous to the sex body in mammals, contains a histone modification associated with heterochromatin in other species and is inactivated throughout meiosis. The synapsed X chromosomes in hermaphrodites also appear to be silenced in early meiosis, but genes on the X chromosome are detectably expressed at later stages of oocyte meiosis. Silencing of the sex chromosome during early meiosis is a conserved feature throughout the nematode phylum, and is not limited to hermaphroditic species.
PMCID: PMC4066729  PMID: 11807039
C. elegans; Germline; Silencing; X-inactivation; Histone modifications; Gametogenesis
4.  A genome scale resource for in vivo tag-based protein function exploration in C. elegans 
Cell  2012;150(4):855-866.
Understanding the in vivo dynamics of protein localization and their physical interactions is important for many problems in Biology. To enable systematic protein function interrogation in a multicelluar context, we built a genome-scale transgenic platform for in vivo expression of fluorescent and affinity tagged proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans under endogenous cis regulatory control. The platform combines computer-assisted transgene design, massively parallel DNA engineering and next generation sequencing to generate a resource of 14637 genomic DNA transgenes, which covers 73% of the proteome. The multipurpose tag used allows any protein of interest to be localized in vivo or affinity purified using standard tag-based assays. We illustrate the utility of the resource by systematic chromatin immunopurification and automated 4D imaging, which produced detailed DNA binding and cell/tissue distribution maps for key transcription factor proteins
PMCID: PMC3979301  PMID: 22901814
5.  Transcriptional Regulation of Gene Expression in C. elegans 
Protein coding gene sequences are converted to mRNA by the highly regulated process of transcription. The precise temporal and spatial control of transcription for many genes is an essential part of development in metazoans. Thus, understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying transcriptional control is essential to understanding cell fate determination during embryogenesis, post-embryonic development, many environmental interactions, and disease-related processes. Studies of transcriptional regulation in C. elegans exploit its genomic simplicity and physical characteristics to define regulatory events with single cell and minute time scale resolution. When combined with the genetics of the system, C. elegans offers a unique and powerful vantage point from which to study how chromatin-associated protein and their modifications interact with transcription factors and their binding sites to yield precise control of gene expression through transcriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC3893038  PMID: 23801596
6.  C. elegans RNA-binding protein GLD-1 recognizes its multiple targets using sequence, context, and structural information to repress translation 
Worm  2013;2(4):e26548.
Caenorhabditis elegans GLD-1, a maxi-KH motif containing RNA-binding protein, has various functions mainly during female germ cell development, suggesting that it likely controls the expression of a selective group of maternal mRNAs. To gain an insight into how GLD-1 specifically recognizes these mRNA targets, we identified 38 biochemically proven GLD-1 binding regions from multiple mRNA targets that are among over 100 putative targets co-immunoprecipitated with GLD-1. The sequence information of these regions revealed three over-represented and phylogenetically conserved sequence motifs. We found that two of the motifs, one of which is novel, are important for GLD-1 binding in several GLD-1 binding regions but not in other regions. Further analyses indicate that the importance of one of the sequence motifs is dependent on two aspects: (1) surrounding sequence information, likely acting as an accessory feature for GLD-1 to efficiently select the sequence motif and (2) RNA secondary structural environment where the sequence motif resides, which likely provides “binding-site accessibility” for GLD-1 to effectively recognize its targets. Our data suggest some mRNAs recruit GLD-1 by a distinct mechanism, which involves more than one sequence motif that needs to be embedded in the correct context and structural environment.
PMCID: PMC3988121  PMID: 24744981
GLD-1; mRNA targets; sequence motif; context dependency; binding site accessibility
7.  RSR-2, the Caenorhabditis elegans Ortholog of Human Spliceosomal Component SRm300/SRRM2, Regulates Development by Influencing the Transcriptional Machinery 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003543.
Protein components of the spliceosome are highly conserved in eukaryotes and can influence several steps of the gene expression process. RSR-2, the Caenorhabditis elegans ortholog of the human spliceosomal protein SRm300/SRRM2, is essential for viability, in contrast to the yeast ortholog Cwc21p. We took advantage of mutants and RNA interference (RNAi) to study rsr-2 functions in C. elegans, and through genetic epistasis analysis found that rsr-2 is within the germline sex determination pathway. Intriguingly, transcriptome analyses of rsr-2(RNAi) animals did not reveal appreciable splicing defects but instead a slight global decrease in transcript levels. We further investigated this effect in transcription and observed that RSR-2 colocalizes with DNA in germline nuclei and coprecipitates with chromatin, displaying a ChIP-Seq profile similar to that obtained for the RNA Polymerase II (RNAPII). Consistent with a novel transcription function we demonstrate that the recruitment of RSR-2 to chromatin is splicing-independent and that RSR-2 interacts with RNAPII and affects RNAPII phosphorylation states. Proteomic analyses identified proteins associated with RSR-2 that are involved in different gene expression steps, including RNA metabolism and transcription with PRP-8 and PRP-19 being the strongest interacting partners. PRP-8 is a core component of the spliceosome and PRP-19 is the core component of the PRP19 complex, which interacts with RNAPII and is necessary for full transcriptional activity. Taken together, our study proposes that RSR-2 is a multifunctional protein whose role in transcription influences C. elegans development.
Author Summary
It is well known that splicing occurs cotranscriptionally but the functional coupling between splicing and transcription has not been studied carefully in the context of a multicellular organism in development. We took advantage of the amenable C. elegans genetics and genomics to demonstrate a functional relationship between RSR-2, whose yeast and human orthologs are components of the spliceosome, and transcription. Although we found that RSR-2 interacts with proteins present in the spliceosome, moderate inhibition of rsr-2 by RNAi did not significantly affect splicing, but rather caused a decrease in transcript levels that was critical for germline sex determination. Our investigation on such a paradox of a spliceosomal component affecting transcription resulted in several lines of evidence linking RSR-2 with transcription: (i) RSR-2 immunoprecipitates chromatin resembling the ChIP-Seq profile of RNAPII, (ii) RSR-2 is present in intronless genes, (iii) rsr-2(RNAi) globally modifies the distribution of RNAPII along genes and its phosphorylation state, (iv) RSR-2 coimmunoprecipitates with RNAPII, and (v) RSR-2 interacts with PRP-19, which is a component of the spliceosome required for efficient transcriptional activity. Our findings raise an intriguing question: to what extent does a moderate alteration in some spliceosome components affect the gene expression process by perturbing splicing or transcription?
PMCID: PMC3675011  PMID: 23754964
8.  Evidence for compensatory upregulation of expressed X-linked genes in mammals, Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster 
Nature genetics  2011;43(12):1179-1185.
Many animal species use a chromosome-based mechanism of sex determination, which has led to the coordinate evolution of dosage-compensation systems. Dosage compensation not only corrects the imbalance in the number of X chromosomes between the sexes but also is hypothesized to correct dosage imbalance within cells that is due to monoallelic X-linked expression and biallelic autosomal expression, by upregulating X-linked genes twofold (termed ‘Ohno’s hypothesis’). Although this hypothesis is well supported by expression analyses of individual X-linked genes and by microarray-based transcriptome analyses, it was challenged by a recent study using RNA sequencing and proteomics. We obtained new, independent RNA-seq data, measured RNA polymerase distribution and reanalyzed published expression data in mammals, C. elegans and Drosophila. Our analyses, which take into account the skewed gene content of the X chromosome, support the hypothesis of upregulation of expressed X-linked genes to balance expression of the genome.
PMCID: PMC3576853  PMID: 22019781
9.  Tissue-specific direct targets of Caenorhabditis elegans Rb/E2F dictate distinct somatic and germline programs 
Genome Biology  2013;14(1):R5.
The tumor suppressor Rb/E2F regulates gene expression to control differentiation in multiple tissues during development, although how it directs tissue-specific gene regulation in vivo is poorly understood.
We determined the genome-wide binding profiles for Caenorhabditis elegans Rb/E2F-like components in the germline, in the intestine and broadly throughout the soma, and uncovered highly tissue-specific binding patterns and target genes. Chromatin association by LIN-35, the C. elegans ortholog of Rb, is impaired in the germline but robust in the soma, a characteristic that might govern differential effects on gene expression in the two cell types. In the intestine, LIN-35 and the heterochromatin protein HPL-2, the ortholog of Hp1, coordinately bind at many sites lacking E2F. Finally, selected direct target genes contribute to the soma-to-germline transformation of lin-35 mutants, including mes-4, a soma-specific target that promotes H3K36 methylation, and csr-1, a germline-specific target that functions in a 22G small RNA pathway.
In sum, identification of tissue-specific binding profiles and effector target genes reveals important insights into the mechanisms by which Rb/E2F controls distinct cell fates in vivo.
PMCID: PMC4053757  PMID: 23347407
10.  Protein kinase VRK-1 regulates cell invasion and EGL-17/FGF signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Developmental Biology  2009;335(1):12-21.
The Vaccinia-Related Kinases (VRKs) are highly conserved throughout the animal kingdom and phosphorylate several chromatin proteins and transcription factors. In early Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, VRK-1 is required for proper nuclear envelope formation. In this work we present the first investigation of the developmental role of VRKs by means of a novel C. elegans vrk-1 mutant allele. We found that VRK-1 is essential in hermaphrodites for formation of the vulva, uterus, utse, and for development and maintenance of the somatic gonad and thus the germ line. VRK-1 regulates anchor cell polarity and the timing of anchor cell invasion through the basement membranes separating vulval and somatic gonadal cells during the L3 larval stage. VRK-1 is also required for proper specification and proliferation of uterine cells and sex myoblasts. Expression of the Fibroblast Growth Factor-like protein EGL-17 and its receptor EGL-15 is reduced in vrk-1 mutants, suggesting that VRK-1 might act at least partially through activation of FGF signaling. Expression of a translational VRK-1::GFP fusion protein in the ventral nerve cord and vulva precursor cells restores vulva and uterus formation, suggesting both cell autonomous and non-autonomous roles of VRK-1.
PMCID: PMC3378332  PMID: 19679119
Anchor cell; Caenorhabditis elegans; Cell invasion; Cell polarity; Cell signaling; FGF; Uterus; Vaccinia Related Kinase; vrk-1; Vulva
11.  Extrinsic and Intrinsic Control of Germ Cell Proliferation in C. elegans 
The germ cells of Caenorhabditis elegans serve as a useful model to study the balance between proliferation and differentiation within the context of development and changing environmental signals experienced by the animal. Germ cells adjacent to a stem cell niche in the distal region of the gonad retain the capacity to divide during adulthood, making them unique from other cells in the organism. We will highlight recent advances in our understanding of mechanisms that control proliferation, as well as the signaling pathways involved in promoting mitosis at the expense of differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3375679  PMID: 21337453
12.  Genome-wide analysis of germ cell proliferation in C. elegans identifies VRK-1 as a key regulator of CEP-1/p53 
Developmental Biology  2010;344(2):1011-1025.
Proliferating germ cells in Caenorhabditis elegans provide a useful model system for deciphering fundamental mechanisms underlying the balance between proliferation and differentiation. Using gene expression profiling, we identified approximately 200 genes upregulated in the proliferating germ cells of C. elegans. Functional characterization using RNA-mediated interference demonstrated that over forty of these factors are required for normal germline proliferation and development. Detailed analysis of two of these factors defined an important regulatory relationship controlling germ cell proliferation. We established that the kinase VRK-1 is required for normal germ cell proliferation, and that it acts in part to regulate CEP-1(p53) activity. Loss of cep-1 significantly rescued the proliferation defects of vrk-1 mutants. We suggest that VRK-1 prevents CEP-1 from triggering an inappropriate cell cycle arrest, thereby promoting germ cell proliferation. This finding reveals a previously unsuspected mechanism for negative regulation of p53 activity in germ cells to control proliferation.
PMCID: PMC3375680  PMID: 20599896
C. elegans; Germ cells; Proliferation; VRK-1; Kinase; p53
13.  Integrative Analysis of the Caenorhabditis elegans Genome by the modENCODE Project 
Gerstein, Mark B. | Lu, Zhi John | Van Nostrand, Eric L. | Cheng, Chao | Arshinoff, Bradley I. | Liu, Tao | Yip, Kevin Y. | Robilotto, Rebecca | Rechtsteiner, Andreas | Ikegami, Kohta | Alves, Pedro | Chateigner, Aurelien | Perry, Marc | Morris, Mitzi | Auerbach, Raymond K. | Feng, Xin | Leng, Jing | Vielle, Anne | Niu, Wei | Rhrissorrakrai, Kahn | Agarwal, Ashish | Alexander, Roger P. | Barber, Galt | Brdlik, Cathleen M. | Brennan, Jennifer | Brouillet, Jeremy Jean | Carr, Adrian | Cheung, Ming-Sin | Clawson, Hiram | Contrino, Sergio | Dannenberg, Luke O. | Dernburg, Abby F. | Desai, Arshad | Dick, Lindsay | Dosé, Andréa C. | Du, Jiang | Egelhofer, Thea | Ercan, Sevinc | Euskirchen, Ghia | Ewing, Brent | Feingold, Elise A. | Gassmann, Reto | Good, Peter J. | Green, Phil | Gullier, Francois | Gutwein, Michelle | Guyer, Mark S. | Habegger, Lukas | Han, Ting | Henikoff, Jorja G. | Henz, Stefan R. | Hinrichs, Angie | Holster, Heather | Hyman, Tony | Iniguez, A. Leo | Janette, Judith | Jensen, Morten | Kato, Masaomi | Kent, W. James | Kephart, Ellen | Khivansara, Vishal | Khurana, Ekta | Kim, John K. | Kolasinska-Zwierz, Paulina | Lai, Eric C. | Latorre, Isabel | Leahey, Amber | Lewis, Suzanna | Lloyd, Paul | Lochovsky, Lucas | Lowdon, Rebecca F. | Lubling, Yaniv | Lyne, Rachel | MacCoss, Michael | Mackowiak, Sebastian D. | Mangone, Marco | McKay, Sheldon | Mecenas, Desirea | Merrihew, Gennifer | Miller, David M. | Muroyama, Andrew | Murray, John I. | Ooi, Siew-Loon | Pham, Hoang | Phippen, Taryn | Preston, Elicia A. | Rajewsky, Nikolaus | Rätsch, Gunnar | Rosenbaum, Heidi | Rozowsky, Joel | Rutherford, Kim | Ruzanov, Peter | Sarov, Mihail | Sasidharan, Rajkumar | Sboner, Andrea | Scheid, Paul | Segal, Eran | Shin, Hyunjin | Shou, Chong | Slack, Frank J. | Slightam, Cindie | Smith, Richard | Spencer, William C. | Stinson, E. O. | Taing, Scott | Takasaki, Teruaki | Vafeados, Dionne | Voronina, Ksenia | Wang, Guilin | Washington, Nicole L. | Whittle, Christina M. | Wu, Beijing | Yan, Koon-Kiu | Zeller, Georg | Zha, Zheng | Zhong, Mei | Zhou, Xingliang | Ahringer, Julie | Strome, Susan | Gunsalus, Kristin C. | Micklem, Gos | Liu, X. Shirley | Reinke, Valerie | Kim, Stuart K. | Hillier, LaDeana W. | Henikoff, Steven | Piano, Fabio | Snyder, Michael | Stein, Lincoln | Lieb, Jason D. | Waterston, Robert H.
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;330(6012):1775-1787.
We systematically generated large-scale data sets to improve genome annotation for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a key model organism. These data sets include transcriptome profiling across a developmental time course, genome-wide identification of transcription factor–binding sites, and maps of chromatin organization. From this, we created more complete and accurate gene models, including alternative splice forms and candidate noncoding RNAs. We constructed hierarchical networks of transcription factor–binding and microRNA interactions and discovered chromosomal locations bound by an unusually large number of transcription factors. Different patterns of chromatin composition and histone modification were revealed between chromosome arms and centers, with similarly prominent differences between autosomes and the X chromosome. Integrating data types, we built statistical models relating chromatin, transcription factor binding, and gene expression. Overall, our analyses ascribed putative functions to most of the conserved genome.
PMCID: PMC3142569  PMID: 21177976
14.  A Comprehensive Analysis of Gene Expression Changes Provoked by Bacterial and Fungal Infection in C. elegans 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19055.
While Caenorhabditis elegans specifically responds to infection by the up-regulation of certain genes, distinct pathogens trigger the expression of a common set of genes. We applied new methods to conduct a comprehensive and comparative study of the transcriptional response of C. elegans to bacterial and fungal infection. Using tiling arrays and/or RNA-sequencing, we have characterized the genome-wide transcriptional changes that underlie the host's response to infection by three bacterial (Serratia marcescens, Enterococcus faecalis and otorhabdus luminescens) and two fungal pathogens (Drechmeria coniospora and Harposporium sp.). We developed a flexible tool, the WormBase Converter (available at, to allow cross-study comparisons. The new data sets provided more extensive lists of differentially regulated genes than previous studies. Annotation analysis confirmed that genes commonly up-regulated by bacterial infections are related to stress responses. We found substantial overlaps between the genes regulated upon intestinal infection by the bacterial pathogens and Harposporium, and between those regulated by Harposporium and D. coniospora, which infects the epidermis. Among the fungus-regulated genes, there was a significant bias towards genes that are evolving rapidly and potentially encode small proteins. The results obtained using new methods reveal that the response to infection in C. elegans is determined by the nature of the pathogen, the site of infection and the physiological imbalance provoked by infection. They form the basis for future functional dissection of innate immune signaling. Finally, we also propose alternative methods to identify differentially regulated genes that take into account the greater variability in lowly expressed genes.
PMCID: PMC3094335  PMID: 21602919
15.  A Widespread Distribution of Genomic CeMyoD Binding Sites Revealed and Cross Validated by ChIP-Chip and ChIP-Seq Techniques 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15898.
Identifying transcription factor binding sites genome-wide using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-based technology is becoming an increasingly important tool in addressing developmental questions. However, technical problems associated with factor abundance and suitable ChIP reagents are common obstacles to these studies in many biological systems. We have used two completely different, widely applicable methods to determine by ChIP the genome-wide binding sites of the master myogenic regulatory transcription factor HLH-1 (CeMyoD) in C. elegans embryos. The two approaches, ChIP-seq and ChIP-chip, yield strongly overlapping results revealing that HLH-1 preferentially binds to promoter regions of genes enriched for E-box sequences (CANNTG), known binding sites for this well-studied class of transcription factors. HLH-1 binding sites were enriched upstream of genes known to be expressed in muscle, consistent with its role as a direct transcriptional regulator. HLH-1 binding was also detected at numerous sites unassociated with muscle gene expression, as has been previously described for its mouse homolog MyoD. These binding sites may reflect several additional functions for HLH-1, including its interactions with one or more co-factors to activate (or repress) gene expression or a role in chromatin organization distinct from direct transcriptional regulation of target genes. Our results also provide a comparison of ChIP methodologies that can overcome limitations commonly encountered in these types of studies while highlighting the complications of assigning in vivo functions to identified target sites.
PMCID: PMC3012110  PMID: 21209968
16.  C. elegans sym-1 is a downstream target of the hunchback-like-1 developmental timing transcription factor 
Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)  2009;8(24):4147-4154.
In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the let-7 microRNA (miRNA) and its family members control the timing of key developmental events in part by directly regulating expression of hunchback-like-1 (hbl-1). C. elegans hbl-1 mutants display multiple developmental timing deficiencies, including cell cycle defects during larval development. While hbl-1 is predicted to encode a transcriptional regulator, downstream targets of HBL-1 have not been fully elucidated. Here we report using microarray analysis to uncover genes downstream of HBL-1. We established a transgenic strain that overexpresses hbl-1 under the control of a heat shock promoter. Heat shock-induced hbl-1 overexpression led to retarded hypodermal structures at the adult stage, opposite to the effect seen in loss of function (lf) hbl-1 mutants. The microarray screen identified numerous potential genes that are upregulated or downregulated by HBL-1, including sym-1, which encodes a leucine-rich repeat protein with a signal sequence. We found an increase in sym-1 transcription in the heat shock-induced hbl-1 overexpression strain, while loss of hbl-1 function caused a decrease in sym-1 expression levels. Furthermore, we found that sym-1(lf) modified the hypodermal abnormalities in hbl-1 mutants. Given that SYM-1 is a protein secreted from hypodermal cells to the surrounding cuticle, we propose that the adult-specific cuticular structures may be under the temporal control of HBL-1 through regulation of sym-1 transcription.
PMCID: PMC2895549  PMID: 19923914
Caenorhabditis elegans; developmental timing; hbl-1; heterochronic genes; let-7; microarray; microRNA
17.  Comparison and calibration of transcriptome data from RNA-Seq and tiling arrays 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:383.
Tiling arrays have been the tool of choice for probing an organism's transcriptome without prior assumptions about the transcribed regions, but RNA-Seq is becoming a viable alternative as the costs of sequencing continue to decrease. Understanding the relative merits of these technologies will help researchers select the appropriate technology for their needs.
Here, we compare these two platforms using a matched sample of poly(A)-enriched RNA isolated from the second larval stage of C. elegans. We find that the raw signals from these two technologies are reasonably well correlated but that RNA-Seq outperforms tiling arrays in several respects, notably in exon boundary detection and dynamic range of expression. By exploring the accuracy of sequencing as a function of depth of coverage, we found that about 4 million reads are required to match the sensitivity of two tiling array replicates. The effects of cross-hybridization were analyzed using a "nearest neighbor" classifier applied to array probes; we describe a method for determining potential "black list" regions whose signals are unreliable. Finally, we propose a strategy for using RNA-Seq data as a gold standard set to calibrate tiling array data. All tiling array and RNA-Seq data sets have been submitted to the modENCODE Data Coordinating Center.
Tiling arrays effectively detect transcript expression levels at a low cost for many species while RNA-Seq provides greater accuracy in several regards. Researchers will need to carefully select the technology appropriate to the biological investigations they are undertaking. It will also be important to reconsider a comparison such as ours as sequencing technologies continue to evolve.
PMCID: PMC3091629  PMID: 20565764
18.  DPL-1 (DP) acts in the germ line to coordinate ovulation and fertilization in C. elegans 
Mechanisms of development  2009;126(5-6):406-416.
Proper coordination of oogenesis, ovulation, and fertilization is essential for successful reproduction. In C. elegans, a strong loss-of-function mutation in dpl-1, which encodes a subunit of the E2F heterodimeric transcription factor EFL-1/DPL-1, causes severe defects during ovulation and fertilization. Here we demonstrate that the somatic gonad structure and sheath cell contraction rate appear normal in dpl-1 mutants, but that dilation of the spermatheca valve does not occur properly, causing oocytes to become trapped in the proximal gonad arm and enter endomitosis. This ovulation defect can be partially suppressed by increasing the activity of ITR-1, an inositol triphosphate receptor in the spermatheca that promotes dilation in response to IP3 signaling. Tissue-specific rescue experiments demonstrate that expression of DPL-1 in germ cells but not the spermatheca can restore both ovulation and fertilization in dpl-1 mutants, indicating that the absence of DPL-1 likely disrupts a pro-ovulation signal originating in the oocyte that in turn stimulates the spermatheca. Moreover, we found that expression of a single EFL-1/DPL-1-responsive gene, rme-2, in the germ line of dpl-1 mutants significantly rescues ovulation, but not fertilization. Instead, other EFL-1/DPL-1-responsive genes function to promote successful fertilization. We propose that DPL-1 acts with EFL-1 in developing oocytes to directly regulate a transcriptional program that couples the critical events of ovulation and fertilization.
PMCID: PMC2680456  PMID: 19368797
C. elegans; germline; E2F; ovulation; fertilization
19.  Learning “graph-mer” Motifs that Predict Gene Expression Trajectories in Development 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(4):e1000761.
A key problem in understanding transcriptional regulatory networks is deciphering what cis regulatory logic is encoded in gene promoter sequences and how this sequence information maps to expression. A typical computational approach to this problem involves clustering genes by their expression profiles and then searching for overrepresented motifs in the promoter sequences of genes in a cluster. However, genes with similar expression profiles may be controlled by distinct regulatory programs. Moreover, if many gene expression profiles in a data set are highly correlated, as in the case of whole organism developmental time series, it may be difficult to resolve fine-grained clusters in the first place. We present a predictive framework for modeling the natural flow of information, from promoter sequence to expression, to learn cis regulatory motifs and characterize gene expression patterns in developmental time courses. We introduce a cluster-free algorithm based on a graph-regularized version of partial least squares (PLS) regression to learn sequence patterns—represented by graphs of k-mers, or “graph-mers”—that predict gene expression trajectories. Applying the approach to wildtype germline development in Caenorhabditis elegans, we found that the first and second latent PLS factors mapped to expression profiles for oocyte and sperm genes, respectively. We extracted both known and novel motifs from the graph-mers associated to these germline-specific patterns, including novel CG-rich motifs specific to oocyte genes. We found evidence supporting the functional relevance of these putative regulatory elements through analysis of positional bias, motif conservation and in situ gene expression. This study demonstrates that our regression model can learn biologically meaningful latent structure and identify potentially functional motifs from subtle developmental time course expression data.
Author Summary
A major challenge in functional genomics is to decipher the gene regulatory networks operating in multi-cellular organisms, such as the nematode C. elegans. The expression level of a gene is controlled, to a great extent, by regulatory proteins called transcription factors that bind short motifs in the gene's promoter (regulatory region in the non-coding DNA). In a temporal regulatory process, for example in development, the “regulatory logic” of DNA motifs in the promoter largely determines the gene's expression trajectory, as the gene responds over time to changing concentrations of the transcription factors that control it. This study addresses the problem of learning DNA motifs that predict temporal expression profiles, using genomewide expression data from developmental time series in C. elegans. We developed a novel algorithm based on techniques from multivariate regression that sets up a correspondence between sequence patterns and expression trajectories. Sequence motifs are represented as graphs of sequence-similar k-length subsequences called “graph-mers”. By applying the method to germline development in C. elegans, we found both known and novel DNA motifs associated with oocyte and sperm genes.
PMCID: PMC2861633  PMID: 20454681
20.  A C. elegans LSD1 Demethylase Contributes to Germline Immortality by Reprogramming Epigenetic Memory 
Cell  2009;137(2):308-320.
Recently it has been proposed that di-methylation of histone H3 on lysine 4 (H3K4me2) acts as an epigenetic memory to maintain transcriptional patterns in developing tissues. This model suggests that there may be a requirement to reprogram this modification in the germline to prevent transcriptional memory from being inappropriately transmitted to the next generation. We asked if SPR-5, the C. elegans ortholog of the H3K4me2 demethylase LSD1/KDM1, plays a role in epigenetically reprogramming H3K4me2. We show that spr-5 mutants exhibit progressive sterility over many generations due to defects in oogenesis and spermatogenesis. These defects correlate with a progressive failure to erase H3K4me2 in the primordial germ cells, resulting in the misregulation of spermatogenesis-expressed genes due to the transgenerational accumulation of H3K4me2 at these loci. These results suggest that H3K4me2 can serve as an epigenetic memory and that LSD1/KDM1 demethylases play a critical role in the reprogramming of this memory in the germline, preventing inappropriate epigenetic information from being propagated from one generation to the next.
PMCID: PMC2672044  PMID: 19379696
epigenetics; reprogramming; chromatin; germline; germ cells; C. elegans; histone demethylase; LSD1; SPR-5; KDM1
21.  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
22.  A C. elegans Piwi, PRG-1, regulates 21U-RNAs during spermatogenesis 
Current biology : CB  2008;18(12):861-867.
Epigenetic regulation by diverse classes of small RNAs is mediated by the highly conserved Argonaute/Piwi family of proteins. While Argonautes are broadly expressed, the Piwi subfamily primarily functions in the germ line. Piwi proteins are associated with germline-specific ribonucleoprotein (RNP) granules in Drosophila, zebrafish and mouse. Depending on the species and on the specific family member, Piwis play important roles in either spermatogenesis and/or in maintaining germ cell and stem cell totipotency. Piwis bind to a newly discovered class of small RNAs, called piRNAs. C. elegans contains a large set of Argonaute/Piwi related proteins, including two closely related to piwi, called prg-1 and prg-2. The function of prg-1 and prg-2, and whether piRNAs exist in C. elegans, is unknown.
Here, we demonstrate that the Piwi-like protein PRG-1 is localized to P granules in germ cells entering spermatogenesis, and is required for successful spermatogenesis. Loss of prg-1 causes a marked reduction in expression of a subset of mRNAs expressed during spermatogenesis, and prg-1 mutant sperm exhibit extensive defects in activation and fertilization. Moreover, prg-1 activity is required for the presence of the small RNAs called 21U-RNAs.
Our data suggest that PRG-1 promotes expression, processing, or stability of 21U-RNAs, which, in turn or in concert with PRG-1, promote proper expression of spermatogenesis transcripts.
PMCID: PMC2494713  PMID: 18501605
C. elegans; germ line; piwi; 21U-RNA; spermatogenesis
23.  The candidate MAP kinase phosphorylation substrate DPL-1 (DP) promotes expression of the MAP kinase phosphatase LIP-1 in C. elegans germ cells 
Developmental biology  2008;316(1):50-61.
The highly-conserved, commonly used MAP kinase signaling cascade plays multiple integral roles in germline development in C. elegans. Using a functional proteomic approach, we found that the transcription factor DPL-1, a component of the LIN-35(Rb)/EFL-1(E2F)/DPL-1(DP) pathway, is a candidate phosphorylation substrate of MAP kinase. Moreover, dpl-1 genetically interacts with mpk-1(MAP kinase) to control chromosome morphology in pachytene of meiosis I, as does lin-35. However, EFL-1, the canonical DPL-1 heterodimeric partner, does not have a role in this process. Interestingly, we find that DPL-1 and EFL-1, but not LIN-35, promote the expression of a negative regulator of MPK-1, the MAP kinase phosphatase LIP-1. Two E2F consensus motifs are present upstream of the lip-1 open reading frame. Therefore the Rb/E2F/DP pathway intersects with MAP kinase signaling at multiple points to regulate different aspects of C. elegans germ cell development. These two highly conserved pathways with major regulatory roles in proliferation and differentiation likely have multiple mechanisms for cross-talk during development across many species.
PMCID: PMC2359152  PMID: 18304523
C. elegans; germline; MAP kinase; LIP-1 phosphatase; E2F/DP
24.  Protection of specific maternal messenger RNAs by the P body protein CGH-1 (Dhh1/RCK) during Caenorhabditis elegans oogenesis 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2008;182(3):543-557.
During oogenesis, numerous messenger RNAs (mRNAs) are maintained in a translationally silenced state. In eukaryotic cells, various translation inhibition and mRNA degradation mechanisms congregate in cytoplasmic processing bodies (P bodies). The P body protein Dhh1 inhibits translation and promotes decapping-mediated mRNA decay together with Pat1 in yeast, and has been implicated in mRNA storage in metazoan oocytes. Here, we have investigated in Caenorhabditis elegans whether Dhh1 and Pat1 generally function together, and how they influence mRNA sequestration during oogenesis. We show that in somatic tissues, the Dhh1 orthologue (CGH-1) forms Pat1 (patr-1)-dependent P bodies that are involved in mRNA decapping. In contrast, during oogenesis, CGH-1 forms patr-1–independent mRNA storage bodies. CGH-1 then associates with translational regulators and a specific set of maternal mRNAs, and prevents those mRNAs from being degraded. Our results identify somatic and germ cell CGH-1 functions that are distinguished by the involvement of PATR-1, and reveal that during oogenesis, numerous translationally regulated mRNAs are specifically protected by a CGH-1–dependent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2500139  PMID: 18695045
25.  C. elegans Nucleostemin Is Required for Larval Growth and Germline Stem Cell Division 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000181.
The nucleolus has shown to be integral for many processes related to cell growth and proliferation. Stem cells in particular are likely to depend upon nucleolus-based processes to remain in a proliferative state. A highly conserved nucleolar factor named nucleostemin is proposed to be a critical link between nucleolar function and stem-cell–specific processes. Currently, it is unclear whether nucleostemin modulates proliferation by affecting ribosome biogenesis or by another nucleolus-based activity that is specific to stem cells and/or highly proliferating cells. Here, we investigate nucleostemin (nst-1) in the nematode C. elegans, which enables us to examine nst-1 function during both proliferation and differentiation in vivo. Like mammalian nucleostemin, the NST-1 protein is localized to the nucleolus and the nucleoplasm; however, its expression is found in both differentiated and proliferating cells. Global loss of C. elegans nucleostemin (nst-1) leads to a larval arrest phenotype due to a growth defect in the soma, while loss of nst-1 specifically in the germ line causes germline stem cells to undergo a cell cycle arrest. nst-1 mutants exhibit reduced levels of rRNAs, suggesting defects in ribosome biogenesis. However, NST-1 is generally not present in regions of the nucleolus where rRNA transcription and processing occurs, so this reduction is likely secondary to a different defect in ribosome biogenesis. Transgenic studies indicate that NST-1 requires its N-terminal domain for stable expression and both its G1 GTPase and intermediate domains for proper germ line function. Our data support a role for C. elegans nucleostemin in cell growth and proliferation by promoting ribosome biogenesis.
Author Summary
Stem cells are carefully poised between the alternate fates of proliferation and differentiation. The regulation of this choice is a complex one that occurs on many different levels. One major influence controlling this choice derives signals emanating from the nucleolus, which serves dual roles as the site of ribosome biogenesis and as a repository for sequestered key regulatory factors. The nucleolar GTPase nucleostemin has recently been identified as a potential link between stem cell proliferation and nucleolar function, but its exact role in the nucleolus has not been directly addressed in a metazoan. Here, we use the model organism C. elegans to investigate the function of nucleostemin in both differentiated cells and proliferating stem cells. We show that nucleostemin probably acts to regulate ribosome biogenesis, and through this process controls cell proliferation. We also suggest that, at least in C. elegans, the function of nucleostemin is not restricted to proliferating stem cells, but that it also functions in differentiated cells to control cell growth. Our study highlights the complexity of the role of the nucleolus in regulation of cell growth and division.
PMCID: PMC2515194  PMID: 18725931

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