Insulin-like peptides (ILPs) play highly conserved roles in development and physiology. Most animal genomes encode multiple ILPs. Here we identify mechanisms for how the forty Caenorhabditis elegans ILPs coordinate diverse processes, including development, reproduction, longevity and several specific stress responses. Our systematic studies identify an ILP-based combinatorial code for these phenotypes characterized by substantial functional specificity and diversity rather than global redundancy. Notably, we show that ILPs regulate each other transcriptionally, uncovering an ILP-to-ILP regulatory network that underlies the combinatorial phenotypic coding by the ILP family. Extensive analyses of genetic interactions among ILPs reveal how their signals are integrated. A combined analysis of these functional and regulatory ILP interactions identifies local genetic circuits that act in parallel and interact by crosstalk, feedback and compensation. This organization provides emergent mechanisms for phenotypic specificity and graded regulation for the combinatorial phenotypic coding we observe. Our findings also provide insights into how large hormonal networks regulate diverse traits.
Cells adjust their behaviour in response to redox events by regulating protein activity through the reversible formation of disulfide bridges between cysteine thiols. However, the spatial and temporal control of these modifications remains poorly understood in multicellular organisms. Here we measured the protein thiol-disulfide balance in live Caenorhabditis elegans using a genetically encoded redox sensor and found that it is specific to tissues and is patterned spatially within a tissue. Insulin signalling regulates the sensor's oxidation at both of these levels. Unexpectedly, we found that isogenic individuals exhibit large differences in the sensor's thiol-disulfide balance. This variation contrasts with the general view that glutathione acts as the main cellular redox buffer. Indeed, our work suggests that glutathione converts small changes in its oxidation level into large changes in its redox potential. We therefore propose that glutathione facilitates the sensitive control of the thiol-disulfide balance of target proteins in response to cellular redox events.
The measurement of lifespan pervades aging research. Because lifespan results from complex interactions between genetic, environmental and stochastic factors, it varies widely even among isogenic individuals. The actions of molecular mechanisms on lifespan are therefore visible only through their statistical effects on populations. Indeed, survival assays in Caenorhabditis elegans have provided critical insights into evolutionarily conserved determinants of aging. To enable the rapid acquisition of survival curves at an arbitrary statistical resolution, we developed a scalable imaging and analysis platform to observe nematodes over multiple weeks across square meters of agar surface at 8-μm resolution. The automated method generates a permanent visual record of individual deaths from which survival curves are constructed and validated, producing data consistent with results from the manual method of survival curve acquisition for several mutants in both standard and stressful environments. Our approach permits rapid, detailed reverse-genetic and chemical screens for effects on survival and enables quantitative investigations into the statistical structure of aging.
The relationship between the mechanisms that control an organism's lifespan and its ability to respond to environmental challenges are poorly understood. In Caenorhabditis elegans, an insulin-like signaling pathway modulates lifespan and the innate immune response to bacterial pathogens via a common mechanism involving transcriptional regulation by the DAF-16/FOXO transcription factor. The C. elegans germ line also modulates lifespan in a daf-16-dependent manner. Here, we show that the germ line controls the innate immune response of C. elegans somatic cells to two different Gram-negative bacteria. In contrast to the insulin-like signaling pathway, the germ line acts via distinct signaling pathways to control lifespan and innate immunity. Under standard nematode culture conditions, the germ line regulates innate immunity in parallel to a known p38 MAPK signaling pathway, via a daf-16-independent pathway. Our findings indicate that a complex regulatory network integrates inputs from insulin-like signaling, p38 MAPK signaling, and germ line stem cells to control innate immunity in C. elegans. We also confirm that innate immunity and lifespan in C. elegans are distinct processes, as nonoverlapping regulatory networks control survival in the presence of pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria. Finally, we demonstrate that the p38 MAPK pathway in C. elegans is activated to a similar extent by both pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria, suggesting that both can induce the nematode innate immune response.
This article describes the fabrication of a microfluidic device for the liquid culture of many individual nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) in separate chambers. Each chamber houses a single worm from the fourth larval stage until death, and enables examination of a population of individual worms for their entire adult lifespans. Adjacent to the chambers, the device includes microfluidic worm clamps, which enable periodic, temporary immobilization of each worm. The device made it possible to track changes in body size and locomotion in individual worms throughout their lifespans. This ability to perform longitudinal measurements within the device enabled the identification of age-related phenotypic changes that correlate with lifespan in C. elegans.
This paper describes the fabrication of a microfluidic device for rapid immobilization of large numbers of live C. elegans for performing morphological analysis, microsurgery, and fluorescence imaging in a high-throughput manner. The device consists of two principal elements: (i) an array of 128 wedge-shaped microchannels, or clamps, which physically immobilize worms, and (ii) a branching network of distribution channels, which deliver worms to the array. The flow of liquid through the device (driven by a constant pressure difference between the inlet and the outlet) automatically distributes individual worms into each clamp. It was possible to immobilize more than 100 worms in less than 15 min. The immobilization process was not damaging to the worms: following removal from the array of clamps, worms lived typical lifespans and reproduced normally. The ability to monitor large numbers of immobilized worms easily and in parallel will enable researchers to investigate physiology and behavior in large populations of C. elegans.
Sir2 and insulin/IGF-1 are the major pathways that impinge upon aging in lower organisms. In Caenorhabditis elegans a possible genetic link between Sir2 and the insulin/IGF-1 pathway has been reported. Here we investigate such a link in mammals. We show that Sirt1 positively regulates insulin secretion in pancreatic beta cells. Sirt1 represses the uncoupling protein (UCP) gene UCP2 by binding directly to the UCP2 promoter. In beta cell lines in which Sirt1 is reduced by SiRNA, UCP2 levels are elevated and insulin secretion is blunted. The up-regulation of UCP2 is associated with a failure of cells to increase ATP levels after glucose stimulation. Knockdown of UCP2 restores the ability to secrete insulin in cells with reduced Sirt1, showing that UCP2 causes the defect in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Food deprivation induces UCP2 in mouse pancreas, which may occur via a reduction in NAD (a derivative of niacin) levels in the pancreas and down-regulation of Sirt1. Sirt1 knockout mice display constitutively high UCP2 expression. Our findings show that Sirt1 regulates UCP2 in beta cells to affect insulin secretion.
Although limiting energy availability extends lifespan in many organisms, it is not understood how lifespan is coupled to energy levels. We find that the AMP:ATP ratio, a measure of energy levels, increases with age in Caenorhabditis elegans and can be used to predict life expectancy. The C. elegans AMP-activated protein kinase alpha subunit AAK-2 is activated by AMP and functions to extend lifespan. In addition, either an environmental stressor that increases the AMP:ATP ratio or mutations that lower insulin-like signaling extend lifespan in an aak-2-dependent manner. Thus, AAK-2 is a sensor that couples lifespan to information about energy levels and insulin-like signals.
The germ line of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans influences life-span; when the germ-line precursor cells are removed, life-span is increased dramatically. We find that neither sperm, nor oocytes, nor meiotic precursor cells are responsible for this effect. Rather life-span is influenced by the proliferating germ-line stem cells. These cells, as well as a downstream transcriptional regulator, act in the adult to influence aging, indicating that the aging process remains plastic during adulthood. We propose that the germ-line stem cells affect life-span by influencing the production of, or the response to, a steroid hormone that promotes longevity.
Presenilins are components of the gamma-secretase protein complex that mediates intramembranous cleavage of betaAPP and Notch proteins. A C. elegans genetic screen revealed two genes, aph-1 and pen-2, encoding multipass transmembrane proteins, that interact strongly with sel-12/presenilin and aph-2/nicastrin. Human aph-1 and pen-2 partially rescue the C. elegans mutant phenotypes, demonstrating conserved functions. The human genes must be provided together to rescue the mutant phenotypes, and the inclusion of presenilin-1 improves rescue, suggesting that they interact closely with each other and with presenilin. RNAi-mediated inactivation of aph-1, pen-2, or nicastrin in cultured Drosophila cells reduces gamma-secretase cleavage of betaAPP and Notch substrates and reduces the levels of processed presenilin. aph-1 and pen-2, like nicastrin, are required for the activity and accumulation of gamma-secretase.
Caenorhabditis elegans senses environmental signals through ciliated sensory neurons located primarily in sensory organs in the head and tail. Cilia function as sensory receptors, and mutants with defective sensory cilia have impaired sensory perception. Cilia are membrane-bound microtubule-based structures and in C. elegans are only found at the dendritic endings of sensory neurons. Here we show that mutations that cause defects in sensory cilia or their support cells, or in sensory signal transduction, extend lifespan. Our findings imply that sensory perception regulates the lifespan of this animal, and suggest that in nature, its lifespan may be regulated by environmental cues.
We have determined structures of binary and ternary complexes of five Asn229 variants of thymidylate synthase (TS) and related their structures to the kinetic constants measured previously. Asn229 forms two hydrogen bonds to the pyrimidine ring of the substrate 2'-deoxyuridine-5'-monophosphate (dUMP). These hydrogen bonds constrain the orientation of dUMP in binary complexes with dUMP, and in ternary complexes with dUMP and the TS cofactor, 5,10-methylene-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolate. In N229 mutants, where these hydrogen bonds cannot be made, dUMP binds in a misoriented or more disordered fashion. Most N229 mutants exhibit no activity for the dehalogenation of 5-bromo-dUMP, which requires correct orientation of dUMP against Cys198. Since bound dUMP forms the binding surface against which the pterin ring of cofactor binds, misorientation of dUMP results in higher Km values for cofactor. At the same time, binding of the cofactor aids in ordering and positioning dUMP for catalysis. Hydrophobic mutants, such as N229I, favor an arrangement of solvent molecules and side-chains around the ligands similar to that in a proposed transition state for ternary complex formation in wild-type TS, and kcat values are similar to the wild-type value. Smaller, more hydrophilic mutants favor arrangements of the solvent and side-chains surrounding the ligands that do not resemble the proposed transition state. These changes correspond to decreases in kcat of up to 2000-fold, with only modest increases in Km or Kd. These results are consistent with the proposal that the hydrogen-bonding network between water, dUMP and side-chains in the active-site cavity contributes to catalysis in TS. Asn229 has the unique ability to maintain this critical network, without sterically interfering with dUMP binding.
The insulin/IGF receptor homolog DAF-2 regulates the aging in C. elegans. Decreasing daf-2 activity causes fertile adults to remain active much longer than normal and to live more than twice as long. A more severe decrease in daf-2 function causes young larvae to enter a state of diapause rather than progressing to adulthood. We have asked which cells require daf-2 gene activity in order for the animal to develop to adulthood and to age normally. We found that daf-2 functions cell nonautonomously in both processes. Our findings imply that the life span of C. elegans is determined by a signaling cascade in which the DAF-2 receptor acts in multiple cell lineages to regulate the production or activity of a secondary signal (or signals), which, in turn, controls the growth and longevity of individual tissues in the animal.
In Drosophila melanogaster, nanos functions as a localized determinant of posterior pattern. Nanos RNA is localized to the posterior pole of the maturing egg cell and encodes a protein that emanates from this localized source. Nanos acts as a translational repressor and thereby establishes a gradient of the morphogen Hunchback. Here we show that the mechanism by which nanos acts in Drosophila is a common developmental strategy in Dipteran insects. We used cytoplasmic transplantation assays to demonstrate that nanos activity is found in posterior poleplasm of five diverse Dipteran species. Genes homologous to nanos were identified from Drosophila virilis, the housefly Musca domestica, and the midge Chironomus samoensis. These genes encode RNAs that are each localized, like nanos, to the embryonic posterior pole. Most importantly, we demonstrate that these homologues can functionally substitute for nanos in D. melanogaster. These results suggest that nanos acts in a similar pathway for axis determination in other insects. Comparison of the Nanos sequences reveals only 19% overall protein sequence similarity; high conservation of a novel zinc finger near the carboxy terminus of the protein defines a region critical for nanos gene function.