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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Oct 29;93(22):12388-93.

Environmental induction and genetic control of surface antigen switching in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Biology and Biotechnology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA 01609, USA.


Nematodes can alter their surface coat protein compositions at the molts between developmental stages or in response to environmental changes; such surface alterations may enable parasitic nematodes to evade host immune defenses during the course of infection. Surface antigen switching mechanisms are presently unknown. In a genetic study of surface antigen switching, we have used a monoclonal antibody, M37, that recognizes a surface antigen on the first larval stage of the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We demonstrate that wild-type C. elegans can be induced to display the M37 antigen on a later larval stage by altering the growth conditions. Mutations that result in nonconditional display of this antigen on all four larval stages fall into two classes. One class defines the new gene srf-6 II. The other mutations are in previously identified dauer-constitutive genes involved in transducing environmental signals that modulate formation of the dauer larva, a developmentally arrested dispersal stage. Although surface antigen switching is affected by some of the genes that control dauer formation, these two process can be blocked separately by specific mutations or induced separately by environmental factors. Based on these results, the mechanisms of nematode surface antigen switching can now be investigated directly.

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