A Putative Catenin-Cadherin System Mediates Morphogenesis of the Caenorhabditis elegans Embryo

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During morphogenesis of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo, hypodermal (or epidermal) cells migrate to enclose the embryo in an epithelium and, subsequently, change shape coordinately to elongate the body (Priess, J.R., and D.I. Hirsh. 1986. Dev. Biol. 117:156-173PriessJRDIHirsh1986Dev.Biol117156-173; Williams-Masson, E.M., A.N. Malik, and J. Hardin. 1997. Development [Camb.]. 124:2889-2901 ). We have isolated mutants defective in morphogenesis that identify three genes required for both cell migration during body enclosure and cell shape change during body elongation. Analyses of hmp-1, hmp-2, and hmr-1 mutants suggest that products of these genes anchor contractile actin filament bundles at the adherens junctions between hypodermal cells and, thereby, transmit the force of bundle contraction into cell shape change. The protein products of all three genes localize to hypodermal adherens junctions in embryos. The sequences of the predicted HMP-1, HMP-2, and HMR-1 proteins are related to the cell adhesion proteins α-catenin, β-catenin/Armadillo, and classical cadherin, respectively. This putative catenin-cadherin system is not essential for general cell adhesion in the C. elegans embryo, but rather mediates specific aspects of morphogenetic cell shape change and cytoskeletal organization.

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