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Genetics. 2017 Oct;207(2):625-642. doi: 10.1534/genetics.117.300207. Epub 2017 Aug 25.

Lipocalins Are Required for Apical Extracellular Matrix Organization and Remodeling in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Genetics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104.
Department of Genetics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104


A lipid and glycoprotein-rich apical extracellular matrix (aECM) or glycocalyx lines exposed membranes in the body, and is particularly important to protect narrow tube integrity. Lipocalins ("fat cups") are small, secreted, cup-shaped proteins that bind and transport lipophilic cargo and are often found in luminal or aECM compartments such as mammalian plasma, urine, or tear film. Although some lipocalins can bind known aECM lipids and/or matrix metalloproteinases, it is not known if and how lipocalins affect aECM structure due to challenges in visualizing the aECM in most systems. Here we show that two Caenorhabditiselegans lipocalins, LPR-1 and LPR-3, have distinct functions in the precuticular glycocalyx of developing external epithelia. LPR-1 moves freely through luminal compartments, while LPR-3 stably localizes to a central layer of the membrane-anchored glycocalyx, adjacent to the transient zona pellucida domain protein LET-653 Like LET-653 and other C. elegans glycocalyx components, these lipocalins are required to maintain the patency of the narrow excretory duct tube, and also affect multiple aspects of later cuticle organization. lpr-1 mutants cannot maintain a continuous excretory duct apical domain and have misshapen cuticle ridges (alae) and abnormal patterns of cuticular surface lipid staining. lpr-3 mutants cannot maintain a passable excretory duct lumen, properly degrade the eggshell, or shed old cuticle during molting, and they lack cuticle barrier function. Based on these phenotypes, we infer that both LPR-1 and LPR-3 are required to build a properly organized aECM, while LPR-3 additionally is needed for aECM clearance and remodeling. The C. elegans glycocalyx provides a powerful system, amenable to both genetic analysis and live imaging, for investigating how lipocalins and lipids affect aECM structure.


C. elegans; apical extracellular matrix; cuticle; excretory system; lipocalin

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