A gain-of-function mutation in oma-1, a C. elegans gene required for oocyte maturation, results in delayed degradation of maternal proteins and embryonic lethality

Dev Biol. 2003 Jun 1;258(1):226-39. doi: 10.1016/s0012-1606(03)00119-2.


In vertebrates, oocytes undergo maturation, arrest in metaphase II, and can then be fertilized by sperm. Fertilization initiates molecular events that lead to the activation of early embryonic development. In Caenorhabditis elegans, where no delay between oocyte maturation and fertilization is apparent, oocyte maturation and fertilization must be tightly coordinated. It is not clear what coordinates the transition from an oocyte to an embryo in C. elegans, but regulated turnover of oocyte-specific proteins contributes to the process. We describe here a gain-of-function mutation (zu405) in a gene that is essential for oocyte maturation, oma-1. In wild type animals, OMA-1 protein is expressed at a high level exclusively in oocytes and newly fertilized embryos and is degraded rapidly after the first mitotic division. The zu405 mutation results in improper degradation of the OMA-1 protein in embryos. In oma-1(zu405) embryos, the C blastomere is transformed to the EMS blastomere fate, resulting in embryonic lethality. We show that degradation of several maternally supplied cell fate determinants, including SKN-1, PIE-1, MEX-3, and MEX-5, is delayed in oma-1(zu405) mutant embryos. In wild type embryos, SKN-1 functions in EMS for EMS blastomere fate specification. A decreased level of maternal SKN-1 protein in the C blastomere relative to EMS is believed to be responsible for this cell expressing the C, instead of the EMS, fate. Delayed degradation of maternal SKN-1 protein in oma-1(zu405) embryos and resultant elevated levels in C blastomere is likely responsible for the observed C-to-EMS blastomere fate transformation. These observations suggest that oma-1, in addition to its role in oocyte maturation, contributes to early embryonic development by regulating the temporal degradation of maternal proteins in early C. elegans embryos.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastomeres / cytology
  • Blastomeres / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Digestive System / cytology
  • Digestive System / embryology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes, Helminth
  • Genes, Lethal
  • Genetic Markers
  • Helminth Proteins / analysis
  • Helminth Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Helminth Proteins / genetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / cytology
  • Oocytes / physiology*
  • Pharynx / cytology
  • Pharynx / embryology
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Sex Factors
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Genetic Markers
  • Helminth Proteins
  • OMA-1 protein, C elegans
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Transcription Factors