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Development. 2008 Aug;135(14):2373-82. doi: 10.1242/dev.017046. Epub 2008 Jun 11.

dmd-3, a doublesex-related gene regulated by tra-1, governs sex-specific morphogenesis in C. elegans.

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Center for Neural Development and Disease, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Although sexual dimorphism is ubiquitous in animals, the means by which sex determination mechanisms trigger specific modifications to shared structures is not well understood. In C. elegans, tail tip morphology is highly dimorphic: whereas hermaphrodites have a whip-like, tapered tail tip, the male tail is blunt-ended and round. Here we show that the male-specific cell fusion and retraction that generate the adult tail are controlled by the previously undescribed doublesex-related DM gene dmd-3, with a secondary contribution from the paralogous gene mab-3. In dmd-3 mutants, cell fusion and retraction in the male tail tip are severely defective, while in mab-3; dmd-3 double mutants, these processes are completely absent. Conversely, expression of dmd-3 in the hermaphrodite tail tip is sufficient to trigger fusion and retraction. The master sexual regulator tra-1 normally represses dmd-3 expression in the hermaphrodite tail tip, accounting for the sexual specificity of tail tip morphogenesis. Temporal cues control the timing of tail remodeling in males by regulating dmd-3 expression, and Wnt signaling promotes this process by maintaining and enhancing dmd-3 expression in the tail tip. Downstream, dmd-3 and mab-3 regulate effectors of morphogenesis including the cell fusion gene eff-1. Together, our results reveal a regulatory network for male tail morphogenesis in which dmd-3 and mab-3 together occupy the central node. These findings indicate that an important conserved function of DM genes is to link the general sex determination hierarchy to specific effectors of differentiation and morphogenesis.

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