Using electron microscopy and immunofluorescent labeling of adherens junctions, we have reconstructed the changes in cell architecture and intercellular associations that occur during morphogenesis of the nematode male tail tip. During late postembryonic development, the Caenorhabditis elegans male tail is reshaped to form a copulatory structure. The most posterior hypodermal cells in the tail define a specialized, sexually dimorphic compartment in which cells fuse and retract in the male, changing their shape from a tapered cone to a blunt dome. Developmental profiles using electron microscopy and immunofluorescent staining suggest that cell fusions are initiated at or adjacent to adherens junctions. Anterior portions of the tail tip cells show the first evidence of retractions and fusions, consistent with our hypothesis that an anterior event triggers these morphogenetic events. Available mutations that interfere with morphogenesis implicate particular regulatory pathways and suggest loci at which evolutionary changes could have produced morphological diversity.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.