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Development. 2012 Apr;139(8):1509-21. doi: 10.1242/dev.070128. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

Context-dependent function of a conserved translational regulatory module.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


The modification of transcriptional regulation is a well-documented evolutionary mechanism in both plants and animals, but post-transcriptional controls have received less attention. The derived hermaphrodite of C. elegans has regulated spermatogenesis in an otherwise female body. The PUF family RNA-binding proteins FBF-1 and FBF-2 limit XX spermatogenesis by repressing the male-promoting proteins FEM-3 and GLD-1. Here, we examine the function of PUF homologs from other Caenorhabditis species, with emphasis on C. briggsae, which evolved selfing convergently. C. briggsae lacks a bona fide fbf-1/2 ortholog, but two members of the related PUF-2 subfamily, Cbr-puf-2 and Cbr-puf-1.2, do have a redundant germline sex determination role. Surprisingly, this is to promote, rather than limit, hermaphrodite spermatogenesis. We provide genetic, molecular and biochemical evidence that Cbr-puf-2 and Cbr-puf-1.2 repress Cbr-gld-1 by a conserved mechanism. However, Cbr-gld-1 acts to limit, rather than promote, XX spermatogenesis. As with gld-1, no sex determination function for fbf or puf-2 orthologs is observed in gonochoristic Caenorhabditis. These results indicate that PUF family genes were co-opted for sex determination in each hermaphrodite via their long-standing association with gld-1, and that their precise sex-determining roles depend on the species-specific context in which they act. Finally, we document non-redundant roles for Cbr-puf-2 in embryonic and early larval development, the latter role being essential. Thus, recently duplicated PUF paralogs have already acquired distinct functions.

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