Multi-modal regulation of C. elegans hermaphrodite spermatogenesis by the GLD-1-FOG-2 complex

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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Proper germ cell sex determination in Caenorhabditis nematodes requires a network of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) and their target mRNAs. In some species, changes in this network enabled limited XX spermatogenesis, and thus self-fertility. In C. elegans, one of these selfing species, the global sex-determining gene tra-2 is regulated in germ cells by a conserved RBP, GLD-1, via the 3′ untranslated region (3′UTR) of its transcript. A C. elegans-specific GLD-1 cofactor, FOG-2, is also required for hermaphrodite sperm fate, but how it modifies GLD-1 function is unknown. Germline feminization in gld-1 and fog-2 null mutants has been interpreted as due to cell-autonomous elevation of TRA-2 translation. Consistent with the proposed role of FOG-2 in translational control, the abundance of nearly all GLD-1 target mRNAs (including tra-2) is unchanged in fog-2 mutants. Epitope tagging reveals abundant TRA-2 expression in somatic tissues, but an undetectably low level in wild-type germ cells. Loss of gld-1 function elevates germline TRA-2 expression to detectable levels, but loss of fog-2 function does not. A simple quantitative model of tra-2 activity constrained by these results can successfully sort genotypes into normal or feminized groups. Surprisingly, fog-2 and gld-1 activity enable the sperm fate even when GLD-1 cannot bind to the tra-2 3′ UTR. This suggests the GLD-1-FOG-2 complex regulates uncharacterized sites within tra-2, or other mRNA targets. Finally, we quantify the RNA-binding capacities of dominant missense alleles of GLD-1 that act genetically as “hyper-repressors” of tra-2 activity. These variants bind RNA more weakly in vitro than does wild-type GLD-1. These results indicate that gld-1 and fog-2 regulate germline sex via multiple interactions, and that our understanding of the control and evolution of germ cell sex determination in the C. elegans hermaphrodite is far from complete.

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Developmental Biology

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