Background: The development of a connection between the uterus and the vulva in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans requires specification of a uterine cell called the utse, and its attachment to the vulva and the epidermal seam cells. The uterine pi cells generate the utse and uv1 cells, which also connect the uterus to the vulva. The uterine anchor cell (AC) induces the vulva through LIN-3/epidermal growth factor (EGF) signaling, and the pi cells through LIN-12/Notch signaling. Here, we report that a gene required for seam cell maturation is also required for specification of the utse and for vulval differentiation, and thus helps to coordinate development of the vulval-uterine-seam cell connection.
Results: We cloned the egl-29 gene, which is necessary for induction of uterine pi cells, and found it to be allelic to lin-29, which encodes a zinc finger transcription factor that is necessary for the terminal differentiation of epidermal seam cells. In the uterus, lin-29 functioned upstream of lin-12 in the induction of pi cells and was necessary to maintain expression in the AC of lag-2, which encodes a ligand for LIN-12.
Conclusions: The lin-29 gene controls gene expression in the epidermal seam cells, uterus and vulva, and may help to coordinate the terminal development of these three tissues by regulating the timing of late gene expression during organogenesis.