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Genetics. 2004 Jul;167(3):1165-76.

Caenorhabditis elegans WASP and Ena/VASP proteins play compensatory roles in morphogenesis and neuronal cell migration.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3204, USA.


We report here that WASP and Ena/VASP family proteins play overlapping roles in C. elegans morphogenesis and neuronal cell migration. Specifically, these studies demonstrate that UNC-34/Ena plays a role in morphogenesis that is revealed only in the absence of WSP-1 function and that WSP-1 has a role in neuronal cell migration that is revealed only in the absence of UNC-34/Ena activity. To identify additional genes that act in parallel to unc-34/ena during morphogenesis, we performed a screen for synthetic lethals in an unc-34 null mutant background utilizing an RNAi feeding approach. To our knowledge, this is the first reported RNAi-based screen for genetic interactors. As a result of this screen, we identified a second C. elegans WASP family protein, wve-1, that is most homologous to SCAR/WAVE proteins. Animals with impaired wve-1 function display defects in gastrulation, fail to undergo proper morphogenesis, and exhibit defects in neuronal cell migrations and axon outgrowth. Reducing wve-1 levels in either unc-34/ena or wsp-1 mutant backgrounds also leads to a significant enhancement of the gastrulation and morphogenesis defects. Thus, unc-34/ena, wsp-1, and wve-1 play overlapping roles during embryogenesis and unc-34/ena and wsp-1 play overlapping roles in neuronal cell migration. These observations show that WASP and Ena/VASP proteins can compensate for each other in vivo and provide the first demonstration of a role for Ena/VASP proteins in gastrulation and morphogenesis. In addition, our results provide the first example of an in vivo role for WASP family proteins in neuronal cell migrations and cytokinesis in metazoans.

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