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Functional genomic identification of genes required for male gonadal differentiation in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Kalis AK, Kroetz MB, Larson KM, Zarkower D


The Caenorhabditis elegans somatic gonad develops from a four-cell primordium into a mature organ that differs dramatically between the sexes in overall morphology (two arms in hermaphrodites and one in males) and in the cell types comprising it. Gonadal development in C. elegans is well studied, but regulation of sexual differentiation, especially later in gonadal development, remains poorly elucidated. To identify genes involved in this process, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen using sex-specifically expressed gonadal GFP reporters. This screen identified several phenotypic classes, including approximately 70 genes whose depletion feminized male gonadal cells. Among the genes required for male cell fate specification are Wnt/beta-catenin pathway members, cell cycle regulators, and genes required for mitotic spindle function and cytokinesis. We find that a Wnt/beta-catenin pathway independent of extracellular Wnt ligand is essential for asymmetric cell divisions and male differentiation during gonadal development in larvae. We also find that the cell cycle regulators cdk-1 and cyb-3 and the spindle/cytokinesis regulator zen-4 are required for Wnt/beta-catenin pathway activity in the developing gonad. After sex is determined in the gonadal primordium the global sex determination pathway is dispensable for gonadal sexual fate, suggesting that male cell fates are promoted and maintained independently of the global pathway during this period.

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