Background: Reciprocal signaling between distinct tissues is a general feature of organogenesis. Despite the identification of developmental processes in which coordination requires reciprocal signaling, little is known regarding the underlying molecular details. Here, we use the development of the uterine-vulval connection in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system to study reciprocal signaling.
Results: In C. elegans, development of the uterine-vulval connection requires the specification of uterine uv1 cells and morphogenesis of 1 degrees -derived vulval cells. LIN-3, an epidermal growth factor (EGF) family protein, is first produced by the gonadal anchor cell to induce vulval precursor cells to generate vulval tissue. We have shown that lin-3 is also expressed in the 1 degrees vulval lineage after vulval induction and that the 1 degrees vulva is necessary to induce the uv1 uterine cell fate. Using genetic and cell biological analyses, we found that the specification of uterine uv1 cells is dependent on EGF signaling from cells of the 1 degrees vulval lineages to a subset of ventral uterine cells of the gonad. RAS and RAF are necessary for this signaling. We also found that EGL-38, a member of the PAX family of proteins, is necessary for transcription of lin-3 in the vulva but not in the anchor cell. A let-23 mutation that confers ligand-independent activity bypasses the requirement for EGL-38 in specification of the uv1 cell fate.
Conclusions: We have shown how relatively simple EGF signals can be used reciprocally to specify the uterine-vulval connection during C. elegans development.