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PLoS Genet. 2019 May 14;15(5):e1008056. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008056. eCollection 2019 May.

Developmental fidelity is imposed by genetically separable RalGEF activities that mediate opposing signals.

Author information

1
Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University, Houston, TX, United States of America.
2
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, Inserm, IBV, Nice, France.
3
Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States of America.
4
Department of Pharmacology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States of America.

Abstract

The six C. elegans vulval precursor cells (VPCs) are induced to form the 3°-3°-2°-1°-2°-3° pattern of cell fates with high fidelity. In response to EGF signal, the LET-60/Ras-LIN-45/Raf-MEK-2/MEK-MPK-1/ERK canonical MAP kinase cascade is necessary to induce 1° fate and synthesis of DSL ligands for the lateral Notch signal. In turn, LIN-12/Notch receptor is necessary to induce neighboring cells to become 2°. We previously showed that, in response to graded EGF signal, the modulatory LET-60/Ras-RGL-1/RalGEF-RAL-1/Ral signal promotes 2° fate in support of LIN-12. In this study, we identify two key differences between RGL-1 and RAL-1. First, deletion of RGL-1 confers no overt developmental defects, while previous studies showed RAL-1 to be essential for viability and fertility. From this observation, we hypothesize that the essential functions of RAL-1 are independent of upstream activation. Second, RGL-1 plays opposing and genetically separable roles in VPC fate patterning. RGL-1 promotes 2° fate via canonical GEF-dependent activation of RAL-1. Conversely, RGL-1 promotes 1° fate via a non-canonical GEF-independent activity. Our genetic epistasis experiments are consistent with RGL-1 functioning in the modulatory 1°-promoting AGE-1/PI3-Kinase-PDK-1-AKT-1 cascade. Additionally, animals lacking RGL-1 experience 15-fold higher rates of VPC patterning errors compared to the wild type. Yet VPC patterning in RGL-1 deletion mutants is not more sensitive to environmental perturbations. We propose that RGL-1 functions to orchestrate opposing 1°- and 2°-promoting modulatory cascades to decrease developmental stochasticity. We speculate that such switches are broadly conserved but mostly masked by paralog redundancy or essential functions.

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