Microtubule depolymerization in Caenorhabditis elegans touch receptor neurons reduces gene expression through a p38 MAPK pathway.
Microtubules are integral to neuronal development and function. They endow cells with polarity, shape, and structure, and their extensive surface area provides substrates for intracellular trafficking and scaffolds for signaling molecules. Consequently, microtubule polymerization dynamics affect not only structural features of the cell but also the subcellular localization of proteins that can trigger intracellular signaling events. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the processes of touch receptor neurons are filled with a bundle of specialized large-diameter microtubules. We find that conditions that disrupt these microtubules (loss of either the MEC-7 β-tubulin or MEC-12 α-tubulin or growth in 1 mM colchicine) cause a general reduction in touch receptor neuron (TRN) protein levels. This reduction requires a p38 MAPK pathway (DLK-1, MKK-4, and PMK-3) and the transcription factor CEBP-1. Cells may use this feedback pathway that couples microtubule state and MAPK activation to regulate cellular functions.