skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Dauer fate in a Caenorhabditis elegans Boolean network model
Cellular fates are determined by genes interacting across large, complex biological networks. A critical question is how to identify causal relationships spanning distinct signaling pathways and underlying organismal phenotypes. Here, we address this question by constructing a Boolean model of a well-studied developmental network and analyzing information flows through the system. Depending on environmental signals Caenorhabditis elegans develop normally to sexual maturity or enter a reproductively delayed, developmentally quiescent ‘dauer’ state, progressing to maturity when the environment changes. The developmental network that starts with environmental signal and ends in the dauer/no dauer fate involves genes across 4 signaling pathways including cyclic GMP, Insulin/IGF-1, TGF- β and steroid hormone synthesis. We identified three stable motifs leading to normal development, each composed of genes interacting across the Insulin/IGF-1, TGF- β and steroid hormone synthesis pathways. Three genes known to influence dauer fate, daf-2 , daf-7 and hsf-1 , acted as driver nodes in the system. Using causal logic analysis, we identified a five gene cyclic subgraph integrating the information flow from environmental signal to dauer fate. Perturbation analysis showed that a multifactorial insulin profile determined the stable motifs the system entered and interacted with daf-12 as the switchpoint driving the dauer/no dauer fate. Our results show that complex organismal systems can be distilled into abstract representations that permit full characterization of the causal relationships driving developmental fates. Analyzing organismal systems from this perspective of logic and function has important implications for studies examining the evolution and conservation of signaling pathways.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1941854 2225796
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract In almost all animals, physiologically low oxygen (hypoxia) during development slows growth and reduces adult body size. The developmental mechanisms that determine growth under hypoxic conditions are, however, poorly understood. Here we show that the growth and body size response to moderate hypoxia (10% O 2 ) in Drosophila melanogaster is systemically regulated via the steroid hormone ecdysone. Hypoxia increases level of circulating ecdysone and inhibition of ecdysone synthesis ameliorates the negative effect of low oxygen on growth. We also show that the effect of ecdysone on growth under hypoxia is through suppression of the insulin/IGF-signaling pathway, via increased expression of the insulin-binding protein Imp-L2 . These data indicate that growth suppression in hypoxic Drosophila larvae is accomplished by a systemic endocrine mechanism that overlaps with the mechanism that slows growth at low nutrition. This suggests the existence of growth-regulatory mechanisms that respond to general environmental perturbation rather than individual environmental factors. 
    more » « less
  2. Diapause is a state of developmental arrest adopted in response to or in anticipation of environmental conditions that are unfavorable for growth. In many cases, diapause is facultative, such that animals may undergo either a diapause or a non-diapause developmental trajectory, depending on environmental cues. Diapause is characterized by enhanced stress resistance, reduced metabolism, and increased longevity. The ability to postpone reproduction until suitable conditions are found is important to the survival of many animals, and both vertebrate and invertebrate species can undergo diapause. The decision to enter diapause occurs at the level of the whole animal, and thus hormonal signaling pathways are common regulators of the diapause decision. Unlike other types of developmental arrest, diapause is programmed, such that the diapause developmental trajectory includes a pre-diapause preparatory phase, diapause itself, recovery from diapause, and post-diapause development. Therefore, developmental pathways are profoundly affected by diapause. Here, I review two conserved hormonal pathways, insulin/IGF signaling (IIS) and nuclear hormone receptor signaling (NHR), and their role in regulating diapause across three animal phyla. Specifically, the species reviewed are Austrofundulus limnaeus and Nothobranchius furzeri annual killifishes, Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes, and insect species including Drosophila melanogaster , Culex pipiens , and Bombyx mori . In addition, the developmental changes that occur as a result of diapause are discussed, with a focus on how IIS and NHR pathways interact with core developmental pathways in C. elegans larvae that undergo diapause. 
    more » « less
  3. INTRODUCTION Neurons are by far the most diverse of all cell types in animals, to the extent that “cell types” in mammalian brains are still mostly heterogeneous groups, and there is no consensus definition of the term. The Drosophila optic lobes, with approximately 200 well-defined cell types, provides a tractable system with which to address the genetic basis of neuronal type diversity. We previously characterized the distinct developmental gene expression program of each of these types using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), with one-to-one correspondence to the known morphological types. RATIONALE The identity of fly neurons is determined by temporal and spatial patterning mechanisms in stem cell progenitors, but it remained unclear how these cell fate decisions are implemented and maintained in postmitotic neurons. It was proposed in Caenorhabditis elegans that unique combinations of terminal selector transcription factors (TFs) that are continuously expressed in each neuron control nearly all of its type-specific gene expression. This model implies that it should be possible to engineer predictable and complete switches of identity between different neurons just by modifying these sustained TFs. We aimed to test this prediction in the Drosophila visual system. RESULTS Here, we used our developmental scRNA-seq atlases to identify the potential terminal selector genes in all optic lobe neurons. We found unique combinations of, on average, 10 differentially expressed and stably maintained (across all stages of development) TFs in each neuron. Through genetic gain- and loss-of-function experiments in postmitotic neurons, we showed that modifications of these selector codes are sufficient to induce predictable switches of identity between various cell types. Combinations of terminal selectors jointly control both developmental (e.g., morphology) and functional (e.g., neurotransmitters and their receptors) features of neurons. The closely related Transmedullary 1 (Tm1), Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons (see the figure) share a similar code of terminal selectors, but can be distinguished from each other by three TFs that are continuously and specifically expressed in one of these cell types: Drgx in Tm1, Pdm3 in Tm2, and SoxN in Tm6. We showed that the removal of each of these selectors in these cell types reprograms them to the default Tm4 fate. We validated these conversions using both morphological features and molecular markers. In addition, we performed scRNA-seq to show that ectopic expression of pdm3 in Tm4 and Tm6 neurons converts them to neurons with transcriptomes that are nearly indistinguishable from that of wild-type Tm2 neurons. We also show that Drgx expression in Tm1 neurons is regulated by Klumpfuss, a TF expressed in stem cells that instructs this fate in progenitors, establishing a link between the regulatory programs that specify neuronal fates and those that implement them. We identified an intronic enhancer in the Drgx locus whose chromatin is specifically accessible in Tm1 neurons and in which Klu motifs are enriched. Genomic deletion of this region knocked down Drgx expression specifically in Tm1 neurons, leaving it intact in the other cell types that normally express it. We further validated this concept by demonstrating that ectopic expression of Vsx (visual system homeobox) genes in Mi15 neurons not only converts them morphologically to Dm2 neurons, but also leads to the loss of their aminergic identity. Our results suggest that selector combinations can be further sculpted by receptor tyrosine kinase signaling after neurogenesis, providing a potential mechanism for postmitotic plasticity of neuronal fates. Finally, we combined our transcriptomic datasets with previously generated chromatin accessibility datasets to understand the mechanisms that control brain wiring downstream of terminal selectors. We built predictive computational models of gene regulatory networks using the Inferelator framework. Experimental validations of these networks revealed how selectors interact with ecdysone-responsive TFs to activate a large and specific repertoire of cell surface proteins and other effectors in each neuron at the onset of synapse formation. We showed that these network models can be used to identify downstream effectors that mediate specific cellular decisions during circuit formation. For instance, reduced levels of cut expression in Tm2 neurons, because of its negative regulation by pdm3 , controls the synaptic layer targeting of their axons. Knockdown of cut in Tm1 neurons is sufficient to redirect their axons to the Tm2 layer in the lobula neuropil without affecting other morphological features. CONCLUSION Our results support a model in which neuronal type identity is primarily determined by a relatively simple code of continuously expressed terminal selector TFs in each cell type throughout development. Our results provide a unified framework of how specific fates are initiated and maintained in postmitotic neurons and open new avenues to understanding synaptic specificity through gene regulatory networks. The conservation of this regulatory logic in both C. elegans and Drosophila makes it likely that the terminal selector concept will also be useful in understanding and manipulating the neuronal diversity of mammalian brains. Terminal selectors enable predictive cell fate reprogramming. Tm1, Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons of the Drosophila visual system share a core set of TFs continuously expressed by each cell type (simplified). The default Tm4 fate is overridden by the expression of a single additional terminal selector to generate Tm1 ( Drgx ), Tm2 ( pdm3 ), or Tm6 ( SoxN ) fates. 
    more » « less
  4. Murphy, Coleen T. (Ed.)
    Animals can adapt to dynamic environmental conditions by modulating their developmental programs. Understanding the genetic architecture and molecular mechanisms underlying developmental plasticity in response to changing environments is an important and emerging area of research. Here, we show a novel role of cAMP response element binding protein (CREB)-encoding crh-1 gene in developmental polyphenism of C . elegans . Under conditions that promote normal development in wild-type animals, crh-1 mutants inappropriately form transient pre-dauer (L2d) larvae and express the L2d marker gene. L2d formation in crh-1 mutants is specifically induced by the ascaroside pheromone ascr#5 (asc-ωC3; C3), and crh-1 functions autonomously in the ascr#5-sensing ASI neurons to inhibit L2d formation. Moreover, we find that CRH-1 directly binds upstream of the daf-7 TGF-β locus and promotes its expression in the ASI neurons. Taken together, these results provide new insight into how animals alter their developmental programs in response to environmental changes. 
    more » « less
  5. Collapsin response mediator protein-2 (CRMP2) in humans, UNC-33 in C. elegans , is a molecule that mediates axonal outgrowth and stability. UNC-33/CRMP2 has been hypothesized as a potential drug target for treating Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, which can often be attributed in part to aging. In aging, CRMP2 becomes hyperphosphorylated, which decreases the protein’s functionality, destabilizes the cellular skeleton, and contributes to neurodegeneration. In C. elegans, aging can be slowed by entering dauer diapause; a non-aging developmental stage turned on when the DAF-7/TGFβ signaling pathway is silenced in response to environmental stressors. In our laboratory, we discovered that unc-33 mutants are unable to form dauers in response to environmental stressors, but the mechanism behind this is still unknown. Here, we present a study that investigates whether a mutation in the daf-7 gene which leads to a temperature sensitive constitutive dauer phenotype can rescue phenotypes characteristic of unc-33 mutants. To this end, we created unc-33 ; daf-7 double mutants and quantified proper dauer formation after exposure to unfavorable environmental conditions. In addition, we tested how the introduction of the daf-7 mutation would affect the locomotion of the double mutants on an agar plate and a liquid medium. Furthermore, we examined axonal elongation of the double mutants using a transgene, juIs76, which expresses GFP in GABAergic motor neurons. Our analysis of unc-33; daf-7 double mutants showed that introducing the daf-7 mutation into an unc-33 mutant rescued dauer formation. However, further studies revealed that the unc-33; daf-7 double mutants had defects in axonal outgrowth of their D-type motor neuron which had been previously seen in unc-33 single mutants and impaired locomotion. Based on these results, we concluded that unc-33 mutants might have a problem suppressing DAF-7 signaling under unfavorable environmental conditions, leading to the activation of reproductive programs and the development of adults instead of dauers. 
    more » « less