Characterizing the localization and role of lin-5 and era-1 mRNAs in early C. elegans embryos

Asymmetric cell division is essential for the generation of diversity during development and the function of stem cell lineages. The Caenorhabditis elegans zygote is an attractive model to investigate the mechanisms of spindle positioning during asymmetric cell division. In this polarized cell, the asymmetric distribution of cortical force generators along the antero-posterior axis and pulling on astral microtubules leads to the unequal cleavage of the one-cell embryo. The mechanisms underlying such cortical force generation are thought to act strictly at the protein level. In this thesis work we report that the mRNA encoding the cortical force generator component LIN-5 is enriched around centrosomes in early embryos, in a manner that depends on microtubules and dynein. We established that the lin-5 coding sequence is necessary and sufficient for mRNA enrichment around centrosomes in C. elegans. In addition, we found that lin-5 mRNA is mislocalized in lin-5(ev571) mutant embryos, which harbor a 9 nucleotide insertion in the coding sequence. Moreover, an intragenic revertant of lin-5(ev571), lin-5(ev571he63), also exhibits mislocalized lin-5 mRNA distribution. We demonstrated that this is accompanied by diminished pulling forces on the posterior spindle pole, suggesting that centrosomal localization of lin-5 mRNA is important for robust pulling forces. We found also that lin-5 mRNA centrosomal enrichment is slightly asymmetric during anaphase, with more transcripts present on the anterior side. We developed a novel FRAP-based assay, which revealed that lin-5 is translated/folded preferentially in the cytoplasm compared to centrosomes. Furthermore, we found that morpholino-mediated inhibition of lin-5 translation diminishes pulling forces on the posterior side during anaphase. Together, these findings lead us to propose that preferential translation/folding of lin-5 in the posterior cytoplasm following release of the mRNA from the posterior centrosome contributes to asymmetric cortical distribution of force generators, and thus to proper spindle positioning. Moreover, we found that the mRNA of an uncharacterized gene, era-1 is enriched on the anterior side of the zygote and is inherited by the anterior blastomeres. Similar to era-1 mRNA, a YFP fusion of ERA-1 protein is also asymmetrically distributed. Moreover, asymmetric distribution of both era-1 mRNA and YFP-ERA-1 protein requires the era-1 3'UTR. Furthermore, the RNA-binding protein MEX-5 is needed for both asymmetric era-1 mRNA localization and for its translational activation. Furthermore, we report that the clathrin heavy chain CHC-1 negatively regulates pulling forces acting on centrosomes during interphase and on spindle poles during mitosis in one-cell C. elegans embryos. We establish a similar role for the cytokinesis/apoptosis/RNA-binding protein CAR-1 and uncover that CAR-1 is needed to maintain normal levels of CHC-1. We demonstrate that CHC-1 is necessary for proper organization of the cortical acto-myosin network and for full cortical tension. Furthermore, we establish that the centrosome positioning phenotype of embryos depleted of CHC-1 is alleviated by stabilizing the acto-myosin network. Conversely, we demonstrate that slight perturbations of the acto-myosin network results in excess centrosome movements. Overall, our findings lead us to propose that clathrin plays a critical role in centrosome positioning by promoting acto-myosin cortical tension.

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