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WormBook. 2006 Jan 9:1-16.

Hermaphrodite cell-fate specification.

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  • 1Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506-4901, USA.


There are two sexes in C. elegans, hermaphrodite and male. While there are many sex-specific differences between males and hermaphrodites that affect most tissues, the basic body plan and many of its structures are identical. However, most structures required for mating or reproduction are sexually dimorphic and are generated by sex-specific cell lineages. Thus to understand cell fate specification in hermaphrodites, one must consider how the body plan, which is specified during embryogenesis, influences the fates individual cells. One possible mechanism may involve the asymmetric distribution of POP-1/Tcf, the sole C. elegans Tcf homolog, to anterior-posterior sister cells. Another mechanism that functions to specify cell fates along the anterior-posterior body axis in both hermaphrodites and males are the Hox genes. Since most of the cell fate specifications that occur in hermaphrodites also occur in males, the focus of this chapter will be on those that only occur in hermaphrodites. This will include the cell fate decisions that affect the HSN neurons, ventral hypodermal P cells, lateral hypodermal cells V5, V6, and T; as well as the mesodermal M, Z1, and Z4 cells and the intestinal cells. Both cell lineage-based and cell-signaling mechanisms of cell fate specification will be discussed. Only two direct targets of the sex determination pathway that influence cell fate specification to produce hermaphrodite-specific cell fates have been identified. Thus a major challenge will be to learn additional mechanisms by which the sex determination pathway interacts with signaling pathways and other cell fate specification genes to generate hermaphrodite-specific cell fates.

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