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Development. 2008 Nov;135(22):3665-75. doi: 10.1242/dev.027060. Epub 2008 Oct 8.

MEX-5 asymmetry in one-cell C. elegans embryos requires PAR-4- and PAR-1-dependent phosphorylation.

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Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Anteroposterior polarity in early C. elegans embryos is required for the specification of somatic and germline lineages, and is initiated by a sperm-induced reorganization of the cortical cytoskeleton and PAR polarity proteins. Through mechanisms that are not understood, the kinases PAR-1 and PAR-4, and other PAR proteins cause the cytoplasmic zinc finger protein MEX-5 to accumulate asymmetrically in the anterior half of the one-cell embryo. We show that MEX-5 asymmetry requires neither vectorial transport to the anterior, nor protein degradation in the posterior. MEX-5 has a restricted mobility before fertilization and in the anterior of one-cell embryos. However, MEX-5 mobility in the posterior increases as asymmetry develops, presumably allowing accumulation in the anterior. The MEX-5 zinc fingers and a small, C-terminal domain are essential for asymmetry; the zinc fingers restrict MEX-5 mobility, and the C-terminal domain is required for the increase in posterior mobility. We show that a crucial residue in the C-terminus, Ser 458, is phosphorylated in vivo. PAR-1 and PAR-4 kinase activities are required for the phosphorylation of S458, providing a link between PAR polarity proteins and the cytoplasmic asymmetry of MEX-5.

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