Worm Breeder's Gazette 14(2): 38 (February 1, 1996)
These abstracts should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.
Waksman Institute, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08855
We have previously reported that sma-2, sma-3, and sma-4 encode related proteins, the dwarfins, that function in a TGF-b-like pathway with the receptor DAF-4 (WM95 p. 56; Savage et al., PNAS, in press). The phenotypes that place these genes in a common pathway are small body size (Sma) and male tail abnormalities (Mab): crumpled spicules and sensory ray transformations. While daf-4 mutants have several other defects, most notably including the Daf-c phenotype, these three sma mutants do not seem to share these defects. We wondered whether sma-2, sma-3, and sma-4 have other roles in C. elegans development. To address this question, we are determining the null phenotypes and the expression patterns of these genes. Null alleles of sma-2 and sma-3 may be lethal Existing alleles of sma-2, sma-3, and sma-4 have been picked up by either their Sma or their Mab phenotypes, leaving open the question of whether more severe or lethal alleles could be generated. Also, the molecular lesions that we have identified in sequenced alleles are not convincing molecular nulls. To start characterizing the null phenotypes of these genes, we wanted to put existing alleles over a deficiency. After considerable difficulty with nDf17, which deletes all of these genes, we settled on using nDf16, a well-behaved deletion that only removes sma-3. (Thanks to Theresa Stiernagle for patiently sending numerous deficiency strains!) We crossed sma-3unc-32/++ males into nDf16/qC1(dpy-19glp-1) or nDf16/dpy-17unc-32 hermaphrodites. In each case, Sma cross progeny were present but showed reduced viability. For the qC1 strain, we scored 97 wild-type males and only 18 Sma males, instead of the expected 32. For the dpy-17unc-32 strain, we scored 57 Unc, 92 wt, and 35 Sma males, where Sma and Unc males should have been present in equal numbers. These results suggest that existing sma-3 alleles may be partial loss-of-function, and that null alleles may be at least partially lethal. The sma-3unc-32/nDf16 survivors from these crosses appear no worse than sma-3 homozygotes. Ten Sma males were scored for male tail defects. These look like sma-3 mutants: all had crumpled spicules, 5/10 sides scored had fusions of rays 4 and 5, 5/10 had fusions of rays 6 and 7, and 3/10 had fusions of rays 8 and 9. Although the sma-3unc-32/nDf16 hermaphodites appear healthy and no smaller than sma-3 mutants, they did show reduced fertility as well as higher rates of lethality in the next generation. Of four Sma hermaphrodites picked, one was sterile. The fertile hermaphrodites segregated ~10% Sma (genotype sma-3unc-32/nDf16) and ~90% SmaUnc (sma-3unc-32) progeny, where the expected ratios are 2:1 Sma:SmaUnc. This result indicates a maternal effect for sma-3, since sma-3/nDf16 progeny of nonSma mothers were ~60% viable while the sma-3/nDf16 progeny of Sma mothers were only ~5% viable. The deficiency experiments raised the exciting possibility that sma-2, sma-3, and sma-4 may have essential roles in development. Since sma-3/Df hermaphrodites (from nonSma mothers) are at least reasonably viable and fertile, we decided to isolate null mutations in a non-complementation screen. We are using a sma-3sma-2 double mutant chromosome to isolate mutations in both genes simultaneously; later we will sort out the complementation groups. We are mutagenizing unc-32 hermaphrodites with EMS, and mating with lon-1sma-3sma-2/+++ males. The F1 cross progeny are then screened for Sma animals (sma-?*unc-32/lon-1sma-3sma-2). From ~2000 genomes screened so far, we have isolated 5 new mutations, for a frequency of ~1/800 per gene. In all cases, no homozygous SmaUnc progeny are being segregated, suggesting a lethal hit on the chromosome. We have looked for dead eggs from these strains, but not found any, so that the mutations may be larval lethal. We are currently doing careful egg lays to determine whether these mutations are in fact larval lethal. sma-2 is expressed widely in larvae and adults In conjunction with the genetic and phenotypic analyses described above, we are also determining the expression patterns of these TGF-b pathway components. This information should help in the analysis of the cellular bases of the known and novel phenotypes of these genes. We have built several reporter constructs for sma-2 and sma-3 using PCR of genomic DNA to generate the desired promoter fragments and fusing with lacZ or gfp using Andy Fire¹s vectors. At the same time, we have tagged the SMA-2 protein with the HA epitope as another means of verifying the expression pattern of this gene, as well as to determine the subcellular localization of the protein. We have begun to transform these constructs into nematodes to assay for sma-2 and sma-3 expression. So far, we have preliminary results on the expression pattern of sma-2. For this experiment, we used a 3kb genomic fragment upstream of the sma-2 coding region in a transcriptional fusion with cytoplasmic (not nuclear-localized) lacZ from pPD89.03. The staining pattern in two independent (but not integrated) lines shows very high levels of widely distributed expression, especially in early larval stages. The most prominent feature at all stages is expression throughout the pharynx: this expression is the earliest seen, in late embryos, and persists through adulthood. Since the entire pharynx is stained in these animals, we hypothesize that pharyngeal muscles may be the source of the expression. Given the possibility that sma-2 and sma-3 null mutants may be larval lethal, it is tempting to speculate (but completely unsubstantiated) that they may have pharyngeal defects. Aside from the pharynx, it is difficult to identify the other tissues staining in early larval stages, because the worm appears quite blue throughout. Nuclear localized staining constructs may help to resolve this issue. In adults, the staining pattern is slightly less widespread. As mentioned above, the pharynx stains quite prominently in adults. We also see two lateral ribbon-like stripes along the length of the animal that underlie the cuticular alae, suggesting expression in the seam cells. This result is very satisfying, as defects in the seam cells could be responsible for the Sma phenotype. We also see two blobs of staining near the tail, anterior and posterior of the anus on the ventral side of the animal. These positions coincide with the locations of the intestinal and anal depressor muscles. Finally, there is an intriguing dynamic staining pattern surrounding the vulva in L4 and adult animals. The staining starts as 4 small spots and 2 larger blobs on the ventral side of the animal surrounding the developing vulva. The spots later disappear, and the blobs develop as Y-shaped patches of staining, with the arms nearly surrounding the adult vulva and the base of each Y running either anteriorly or posteriorly on the ventral side of the animal. Our current best guess is that this staining derives from the ventral hypodermis, although other tissues, such as ventral uterus, occupy similar positions. We are continuing to characterize the sma-2 expression pattern by integrating the array, and by looking at expression in males and in mutant backgrounds. As a note of caution, all of the expression results need to be verified with independent constructs and by comparison with the sma-3 expression pattern and with the SMA-2-HA tag localization.