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Cell fate specification during Caenorhabditis elegans male tail development

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Abstract

The cells of the specialized mating structures of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans adult male tail develop from sex-specific divisions of postembryonic blast cells. One male-specific blast cell, B, is the precursor to all the cells of the copulatory spicules. Both cell interactions and autonomous fate specification mechanisms are utilized in the B lineage to specify fate. During development the anterior daughter of B, B.a, generates four distinct pairs of cells. Cell ablation experiments indicate that the cells of each pair respond to positional cues provided by other male-specific blast cells. F and U promote anterior fates, Y.p promotes some posterior fates, and the B.a progeny promote posterior fates. The cells within each pair may also interact. The lin-3/let-23 signalling pathway, identified for its function in C. elegans hermaphrodite vulval induction, mediates the signal from F and U. Reduction-of-function mutations in lin-3 (EGF-like signal), let-23 (receptor), sem-5 (adaptor), let-60 (ras), or lin-45 (raf) disrupt the fates of the anterior cells, and mimic F and U ablation. In addition, ectopically expressed lin-3 disrupts the fates of the posterior cells, and can promote anterior fates even in the absence of F and U. A genetic screen of over 9000 mutagenized gametes recovered 22 mutations in 20 loci that disrupt fate specification in male tail lineages. Seven of these mutations may represent new genes that play a role in male tail development. The first division of the B cell is asymmetric. The gene vab-3 is required for specification of B.a fates, and it may represent a factor whose activity is localized to the B.a cell via the gene lin-17. lin-17 acts both at the first division of the B cell and at specific other cell divisions in the lineage.

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