LET-23-mediated signal transduction during Caenorhabditis elegans development

P W Sternberg, G Lesa, J Lee, W S Katz, C Yoon, T R Clandinin, L S Huang, H M Chamberlin, G Jongeward
Molecular Reproduction and Development 1995, 42 (4): 523-8
We are using Caenorhabditis elegans vulval induction to study intercellular signaling and its regulation. Genes required for vulval induction include the LIN-3 transforming alpha-like growth factor, the LET-23 epidermal growth factor (EGF)-receptor-like transmembrane tyrosine kinase, the SEM-5 adaptor protein, LET-60 Ras, and the LIN-45 Raf serine/threonine kinase. Inactivation of this pathway results in a failure of vulval differentiation, the "vulvaless" phenotype. Activation of this pathway either by overexpression of LIN-3, a point mutation in the LET-23 extracellular domain, or hyperactivity of LET-60 Ras results in excessive vulval differentiation, the "multivulva" phenotype. In addition to searching for new genes that act positively in this signaling pathway, we have also characterized genes that negatively regulate this inductive signaling pathway. We find that such negative regulators are functionally redundant: mutation of only one of these negative regulators has no effect on vulval differentiation; however, if particular combinations of these genes are inactivated, excessive vulval differentiation occurs. The LIN-15 locus encodes two functionally redundant products, LIN-15A and LIN-15B, that formally act upstream of the LET-23 receptor to prevent its activity in the absence of inductive signal. The LIN-15A and B proteins are novel and unrelated to each other. The unc-101, sli-1, and rok-1 genes encode a distinct set of negative regulators of vulval differentiation. The unc-101 gene encodes an adaptin, proposed to be involved in intracellular protein trafficking. The sli-1 gene encodes a protein with similarity to c-cbl, a mammalian proto-oncogene not previously linked with a tyrosine kinase-Ras-mediated signaling pathway. LIN-3 and LET-23 are required for several aspects of C. elegans development--larval viability, P12 neuroectoblast specification, hermaphrodite vulval induction and fertility, and three inductions during male copulatory spicule development. Fertility and vulval differentiation appear to be mediated by distinct parts of the cytoplasmic tail of LET-23, and by distinct signal transduction pathways.

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