Caenorhabditis elegans dauer formation is controlled by multiple environmental factors. The chemosensory neuron ASI regulates dauer formation by secretion of DAF-7/TGF-beta, but the molecular targets of the DAF-7 ligand are incompletely defined and the cellular targets are unknown. We genetically characterized and cloned a putative transducer of DAF-7 signaling called daf-14 and found that it encodes a Smad protein. DAF-14 Smad has a highly unusual structure completely lacking the N-terminal domain found in all other Smad proteins known to date. daf-14 genetically interacts with daf-8, which encodes another Smad, and the interaction suggests partial functional redundancy between these two Smad proteins. We also studied the cellular targets of DAF-7 signaling by studying the sites of action of daf-14 and daf-4, the putative receptor for DAF-7. daf-14::gfp is expressed in multiple tissues that are remodeled during dauer formation. However, analysis of mosaics generated by free duplication loss and tissue-specific expression constructs indicate cell-nonautonomous function of daf-4, arguing against direct DAF-7 signaling to tissues throughout the animal. Instead, these experiments suggest the nervous system as a target of DAF-7 signaling and that the nervous system in turn regulates dauer formation by other tissues.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.