The integral role that collagens play in the morphogenesis of the nematode exoskeleton or cuticle makes them a useful marker in the examination of the collagen synthesizing machinery. In this study, a green fluorescent protein-collagen fusion has been constructed by using the Caenorhabditis elegans adult-specific, hypodermally synthesized collagen COL-19. In wild-type nematodes, this collagen marker localized to the circumferential annular rings and the lateral trilaminar alae of the cuticle. Crosses carried out between a COL-19::GFP integrated strain and several morphologically mutant strains, including blister, dumpy, long, small, squat, and roller revealed significant COL-19 disruption that was predominantly strain-specific and provided a structural basis for the associated phenotypes. Disruption was most notable in the cuticle overlying the lateral seam cell syncytium, and confirmed the presence of two distinct forms of hypodermis, namely the circumferentially contracting lateral seam cells and the laterally contracting ventral-dorsal hypodermis. The effect of a single aberrant collagen being sufficient to mediate widespread collagen disruption was exemplified by the collagen mutant strain dpy-5 and its disrupted COL-19::GFP and DPY-7 collagen expression patterns. Through the disrupted pattern of COL-19 and DPY-7 in a thioredoxin mutant, dpy-11, and through RNA interference of a dual oxidase enzyme and a vesicular transport protein, we also show the efficacy of the COL-19::GFP strain as a marker for aberrant cuticle collagen synthesis and, thus, for the identification of factors involved in the construction of collagenous extracellular matrices.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.