The correct assembly of junction components, such as E-cadherin and beta-catenin, into the zonula adherens is fundamental for the function of epithelia, both in flies and in vertebrates. In C. elegans, however, the cadherin-catenin system is not essential for general adhesion, raising the question as to the genetic basis controlling junction morphogenesis in nematodes. Here we show that dlg-1, the C. elegans homologue of the Drosophila tumour-suppressor gene discs-large, plays a crucial role in epithelial development. DLG-1 is restricted to adherens junctions of all embryonic epithelia, which contrasts with the localisation of the Drosophila and vertebrate homologues in septate and tight junctions, respectively. Proper localisation of DLG-1 requires the basolateral LET-413 protein, but is independent of the cadherin-catenin system. Embryos in which dlg-1 activity was eliminated by RNA-mediated interference fail to form a continuous belt of junction-associated antigens and arrest development. Loss of dlg-1 activity differentially affects localisation of proteins normally enriched apically to the zonula adherens. While the distribution of an atypical protein kinase C (PKC-3) and other cytoplasmic proteins (PAR-3, PAR-6) is not affected in dlg-1 (RNAi) embryos, the transmembrane protein encoded by crb-1, the C. elegans homologue of Drosophila crumbs, is no longer concentrated in this domain. In contrast to Drosophila, however, crb-1 and a second crb-like gene are not essential for epithelial development in C. elegans. Together the data indicate that several aspects of the spatial organisation of epithelial cells and its genetic control differ between flies, worms, and vertebrates, while others are conserved. The molecular nature of DLG-1 makes it a likely candidate to participate in the organisation of a protein scaffold that controls the assembly of junction components into the zonula adherens.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.