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Development. 2006 Sep;133(17):3329-40. Epub 2006 Aug 3.

DIG-1, a novel giant protein, non-autonomously mediates maintenance of nervous system architecture.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Dedicated mechanisms exist to maintain the architecture of an animal's nervous system after development is completed. To date, three immunoglobulin superfamily members have been implicated in this process in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans: the secreted two-Ig domain protein ZIG-4, the FGF receptor EGL-15 and the L1-like SAX-7 protein. These proteins provide crucial information for neuronal structures, such as axons, that allows them to maintain the precise position they acquired during development. Yet, how widespread this mechanism is throughout the nervous system, and what other types of factors underlie such a maintenance mechanism, remains poorly understood. Here, we describe a new maintenance gene, dig-1, that encodes a predicted giant secreted protein containing a large number of protein interaction domains. With 13,100 amino acids, the DIG-1 protein is the largest secreted protein identifiable in any genome database. dig-1 functions post-developmentally to maintain axons and cell bodies in place within axonal fascicles and ganglia. The failure to maintain axon and cell body position is accompanied by defects in basement membrane structure, as evidenced by electron microscopy analysis of dig-1 mutants. Expression pattern and mosaic analysis reveals that dig-1 is produced by muscles to maintain nervous system architecture, demonstrating that dig-1 functions non-autonomously to preserve the proper layout of neural structures. We propose that DIG-1 is a component of the basement membrane that mediates specific contacts between cellular surfaces and their environment through the interaction with a cell-type specific set of other maintenance factors.

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