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1.  The nphp-2 and arl-13 Genetic Modules Interact to Regulate Ciliogenesis and Ciliary Microtubule Patterning in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004866.
Cilia are microtubule-based cellular organelles that mediate signal transduction. Cilia are organized into several structurally and functionally distinct compartments: the basal body, the transition zone (TZ), and the cilia shaft. In vertebrates, the cystoprotein Inversin localizes to a portion of the cilia shaft adjacent to the TZ, a region termed the “Inversin compartment” (InvC). The mechanisms that establish and maintain the InvC are unknown. In the roundworm C. elegans, the cilia shafts of amphid channel and phasmid sensory cilia are subdivided into two regions defined by different microtubule ultrastructure: a proximal doublet-based region adjacent to the TZ, and a distal singlet-based region. It has been suggested that C. elegans cilia also possess an InvC, similarly to mammalian primary cilia. Here we explored the biogenesis, structure, and composition of the C. elegans ciliary doublet region and InvC. We show that the InvC is conserved and distinct from the doublet region. nphp-2 (the C. elegans Inversin homolog) and the doublet region genes arl-13, klp-11, and unc-119 are redundantly required for ciliogenesis. InvC and doublet region genes can be sorted into two modules—nphp-2+klp-11 and arl-13+unc-119—which are both antagonized by the hdac-6 deacetylase. The genes of this network modulate the sizes of the NPHP-2 InvC and ARL-13 doublet region. Glutamylation, a tubulin post-translational modification, is not required for ciliary targeting of InvC and doublet region components; rather, glutamylation is modulated by nphp-2, arl-13, and unc-119. The ciliary targeting and restricted localization of NPHP-2, ARL-13, and UNC-119 does not require TZ-, doublet region, and InvC-associated genes. NPHP-2 does require its calcium binding EF hand domain for targeting to the InvC. We conclude that the C. elegans InvC is distinct from the doublet region, and that components in these two regions interact to regulate ciliogenesis via cilia placement, ciliary microtubule ultrastructure, and protein localization.
Author Summary
Cilia are sensory organelles that are found on most types of human cells and play essential roles in diverse processes ranging from vision and olfaction to embryonic symmetry breaking and kidney development. Individual cilia are divided into multiple functionally and compositionally distinct compartments, including a proximal “Inversin” compartment, which is located near the base of cilia. We used the nematode C. elegans, a well-defined animal model of cilia biology, to characterize the genetics, components, and defining properties of the proximal cilium. The Inversin compartment is conserved in C. elegans, and is established independent of another proximal ciliary region, the microtubule doublet-based region. We showed how components of both the doublet region and the Inversin compartment genetically interact to regulate many pathways linked to core aspects of cilia biology, including ciliogenesis, cilia placement, cilia ultrastructure, microtubule stability, and the protein composition of ciliary compartments. In addition to expanding and clarifying our knowledge of basic cilia biology, these results also have direct implications for human health research because several of the genes and pathways explored in our work are linked to ciliopathies, a group of diseases caused by dysfunctional cilia.
PMCID: PMC4263411  PMID: 25501555
2.  Two Classes of Gap Junction Channels Mediate Soma-Germline Interactions Essential for Germline Proliferation and Gametogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Genetics  2014;198(3):1127-1153.
In all animals examined, somatic cells of the gonad control multiple biological processes essential for germline development. Gap junction channels, composed of connexins in vertebrates and innexins in invertebrates, permit direct intercellular communication between cells and frequently form between somatic gonadal cells and germ cells. Gap junctions comprise hexameric hemichannels in apposing cells that dock to form channels for the exchange of small molecules. Here we report essential roles for two classes of gap junction channels, composed of five innexin proteins, in supporting the proliferation of germline stem cells and gametogenesis in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Transmission electron microscopy of freeze-fracture replicas and fluorescence microscopy show that gap junctions between somatic cells and germ cells are more extensive than previously appreciated and are found throughout the gonad. One class of gap junctions, composed of INX-8 and INX-9 in the soma and INX-14 and INX-21 in the germ line, is required for the proliferation and differentiation of germline stem cells. Genetic epistasis experiments establish a role for these gap junction channels in germline proliferation independent of the glp-1/Notch pathway. A second class of gap junctions, composed of somatic INX-8 and INX-9 and germline INX-14 and INX-22, is required for the negative regulation of oocyte meiotic maturation. Rescue of gap junction channel formation in the stem cell niche rescues germline proliferation and uncovers a later channel requirement for embryonic viability. This analysis reveals gap junctions as a central organizing feature of many soma–germline interactions in C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC4224157  PMID: 25195067
gap junctions; soma–germline interactions; germline stem cells; gametogenesis; oocyte meiotic maturation
3.  Shigella flexneri Infection in Caenorhabditis elegans: Cytopathological Examination and Identification of Host Responses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e106085.
The Gram-negative bacterium Shigella flexneri is the causative agent of shigellosis, a diarrhoeal disease also known as bacillary dysentery. S. flexneri infects the colonic and rectal epithelia of its primate host and induces a cascade of inflammatory responses that culminates in the destruction of the host intestinal lining. Molecular characterization of host-pathogen interactions in this infection has been challenging due to the host specificity of S. flexneri strains, as it strictly infects humans and non-human primates. Recent studies have shown that S. flexneri infects the soil dwelling nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, however, the interactions between S. flexneri and C. elegans at the cellular level and the cause of nematode death are unknown. Here we attempt to gain insight into the complex host-pathogen interactions between S. flexneri and C. elegans. Using transmission electron microscopy, we show that live S. flexneri cells accumulate in the nematode intestinal lumen, produce outer membrane vesicles and invade nematode intestinal cells. Using two-dimensional differential in-gel electrophoresis we identified host proteins that are differentially expressed in response to S. flexneri infection. Four of the identified genes, aco-1, cct-2, daf-19 and hsp-60, were knocked down using RNAi and ACO-1, CCT-2 and DAF-19, which were identified as up-regulated in response to S. flexneri infection, were found to be involved in the infection process. aco-1 RNAi worms were more resistant to S. flexneri infection, suggesting S. flexneri-mediated disruption of host iron homeostasis. cct-2 and daf-19 RNAi worms were more susceptible to infection, suggesting that these genes are induced as a protective mechanism by C. elegans. These observations further our understanding of the processes involved in S. flexneri infection of C. elegans, which is immensely beneficial to the routine use of this new in vivo model to study S. flexneri pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4154869  PMID: 25187942
4.  Intracellular lumen extension requires ERM-1-dependent apical membrane expansion and AQP-8-mediated flux 
Nature cell biology  2013;15(2):143-156.
Many unicellular tubes such as capillaries form lumens intracellularly, a process that is not well understood. Here we show that the cortical membrane organizer ERM-1 is required to expand the intracellular apical/lumenal membrane and its actin undercoat during single-cell C.elegans excretory canal morphogenesis. We characterize AQP-8, identified in an ERM-1 overexpression (ERM-1[++]) suppressor screen, as a canalicular aquaporin that interacts with ERM-1 in lumen extension in a mercury-sensitive manner, implicating water-channel activity. AQP-8 is transiently recruited to the lumen by ERM-1, co-localizing in peri-lumenal cuffs interspaced along expanding canals. An ERM-1[++]-mediated increase in the number of lumen-associated canaliculi is reversed by AQP-8 depletion. We propose that the ERM-1-AQP-8 interaction propels lumen extension by translumenal flux, suggesting a direct morphogenetic effect of water-channel-regulated fluid pressure.
PMCID: PMC4091717  PMID: 23334498
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  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
15.  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
16.  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
17.  C. elegans multi-dendritic sensory neurons: morphology and function 
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.
PMCID: PMC3018541  PMID: 20971193
C. elegans; somatosensory system; nociceptor; proprioceptor; behavior; movement
18.  The Fusogen EFF-1 Controls Sculpting of Mechanosensory Dendrites 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;328(5983):1285-1288.
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.
PMCID: PMC3057141  PMID: 20448153
19.  Structural Properties of the Caenorhabditis elegans Neuronal Network 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(2):e1001066.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC3033362  PMID: 21304930
20.  Lipocalin signaling controls unicellular tube development in the Caenorhabditis elegans excretory system 
Developmental biology  2009;329(2):201-211.
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.
PMCID: PMC3030807  PMID: 19269285
Lipocalin; Tubulogenesis; Intercellular signaling; lpr-1; Excretory
21.  High Resolution Map of Caenorhabditis elegans Gap Junction Proteins 
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.
PMCID: PMC2732576  PMID: 19621339
C. elegans; innexin; gap junction; intercellular signaling; electrical coupling
22.  A Homolog of FHM2 Is Involved in Modulation of Excitatory Neurotransmission by Serotonin in C. elegans 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(4):e10368.
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.
PMCID: PMC2860991  PMID: 20442779
23.  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
24.  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
25.  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

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