A novel mode of ecdysozoan growth in Caenorhabditis elegans

Evol Dev. 2002 Jan-Feb;4(1):16-27. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-142x.2002.01058.x.


Whereas growth in many ecdysozoa is associated with only molting, larval growth in nematodes, specifically Caenorhabditis elegans, is thought to be continuous and exponential. However, this has never been closely investigated. Here we report several detailed studies of growth in wild-type and dwarf C. elegans strains. We find that apparent exponential growth between hatching and adulthood comprises a series of linear phases, one per larval stage, with the linear growth rate increasing at successive molts. Although most structures grow continuously, the buccal cavity does not; instead, it grows saltationally at molts, like arthropod structures. We speculate that these saltational changes in mouth size permit changes in growth rate and that molting exists in nematodes to facilitate rapid growth. We study the cellular basis of this growth in the hypodermis. At each larval stage, lateral seam cells produce daughters that fuse with hyp7, a syncytium covering most of the worm. We find that seam cells and fusing daughter cells obtain larger sizes in successive molts. The total seam cell volume remains constant relative to the size of the worm. However, fusing daughter cells contributes only a very small amount directly to hypodermal growth, suggesting that most hyp7 growth must be intrinsic. Thus, dwarfism mutations studied principally act via adult syncytial growth, with cell size being near normal in both dbl-1 and dpy-2 mutant worms. We speculate that the main function of seam cell proliferation may be to supply the hypodermis with additional genomes for the purpose of growth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development*
  • Cell Size
  • Cytoplasm / physiology
  • Giant Cells / cytology
  • Larva
  • Mouth
  • Stem Cells / cytology