Background: Spindle positioning during an asymmetric cell division is of fundamental importance to ensure correct size of daughter cells and segregation of determinants. In the C. elegans embryo, the first spindle is asymmetrically positioned, and this asymmetry is controlled redundantly by two heterotrimeric Galpha subunits, GOA-1 and GPA-16. The Galpha subunits act downstream of the PAR polarity proteins, which control the relative pulling forces acting on the poles. How these heterotrimeric G proteins are regulated and how they control spindle position is still unknown.
Results: Here we show that the Galpha subunits are regulated by a receptor-independent mechanism. RNAi depletion of gpr-1 and gpr-2, homologs of mammalian AGS3 and Drosophila PINS (receptor-independent G protein regulators), results in a phenotype identical to that of embryos depleted of both GPA-16 and GOA-1; the first cleavage is symmetric, but polarity is not affected. The loss of spindle asymmetry after RNAi of gpr-1 and gpr-2 appears to be the result of weakened pulling forces acting on the poles. The GPR protein(s) localize around the cortex of one-cell embryos and are enriched at the posterior. Thus, asymmetric G protein regulation could explain the posterior displacement of the spindle. Posterior enrichment is abolished in the absence of the PAR polarity proteins PAR-2 or PAR-3. In addition, LIN-5, a coiled-coil protein also required for spindle positioning, binds to and is required for cortical association of the GPR protein(s). Finally, we show that the GPR domain of GPR-1 and GPR-2 behaves as a GDP dissociation inhibitor for GOA-1, and its activity is thus similar to that of mammalian AGS3.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that GPR-1 and/or GPR-2 control an asymmetry in forces exerted on the spindle poles by asymmetrically modulating the activity of the heterotrimeric G protein in response to a signal from the PAR proteins.