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Development. 1998 Jan;125(2):181-90.

The Hox gene lin-39 is required during C. elegans vulval induction to select the outcome of Ras signaling.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, 94143-0554, USA.


The Ras signaling pathway specifies a variety of cell fates in many organisms. However, little is known about the genes that function downstream of the conserved signaling cassette, or what imparts the specificity necessary to cause Ras activation to trigger different responses in different tissues. In C. elegans, activation of the Ras pathway induces cells in the central body region to generate the vulva. Vulval induction takes place in the domain of the Hox gene lin-39. We have found that lin-39 is absolutely required for Ras signaling to induce vulval development. During vulval induction, the Ras pathway, together with basal lin-39 activity, up-regulates lin-39 expression in vulval precursor cells. We find that if lin-39 function is absent at this time, no vulval cell divisions occur. Furthermore, if lin-39 is replaced with the posterior Hox gene mab-5, then posterior structures are induced instead of a vulva. Our findings suggest that in addition to permitting vulval cell divisions to occur, lin-39 is also required to specify the outcome of Ras signaling by selectively activating vulva-specific genes.

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