Competence and commitment of Caenorhabditis elegans vulval precursor cells

Dev Biol. 1999 Aug 1;212(1):12-24. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1999.9357.


Multipotent Caenorhabditis elegans vulval precursor cells (VPCs) choose among three fates (1 degrees, 2 degrees, and 3 degrees ) in response to two intercellular signals: the EGF family growth factor LIN-3 induces 1 degrees fates at high levels and 2 degrees fates at low levels; and a signal via the receptor LIN-12 induces 2 degrees fates. If the level of LIN-3 signal is reduced by a lin-3 hypomorphic mutation, the daughters of the VPC closest to the anchor cell (AC), P6.p, are induced by the AC. By expressing LIN-3 as a function of time in LIN-3-deficient animals, we find that both VPCs and the daughters of VPCs are competent to respond to LIN-3, and VPC daughters lose competence after fusing with the hypodermis. We also demonstrate that the daughters of VPCs specified to be 2 degrees can respond to LIN-3, indicating that 2 degrees VPCs are not irreversibly committed. We propose that maintenance of VPC competence after the first cell cycle and the prioritization of the 1 degrees fate help ensure that P6.p will become 1 degrees. This mechanism of competence regulation might have been maintained from ancestral nematode species that used induction both before and after VPC division and serves to maximize the probability that a functional vulva is formed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins*
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Embryonic Induction
  • Epidermal Growth Factor*
  • Female
  • Helminth Proteins / metabolism
  • Helminth Proteins / pharmacology
  • Hydroxyurea / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Genetic
  • Pedigree
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells*
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Vulva / cytology
  • Vulva / embryology*
  • Vulva / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Helminth Proteins
  • Lin-12 protein, C elegans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Lin-3 protein, C elegans
  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Hydroxyurea