Background: At the onset of embryogenesis, key developmental regulators called determinants are activated asymmetrically to specify the body axes and tissue layers. In C. elegans, this process is regulated in part by a conserved family of CCCH-type zinc finger proteins that specify the fates of early embryonic cells. The asymmetric localization of these and other determinants is regulated in early embryos through motor-dependent physical translocation as well as selective proteolysis.
Results: We show here that the CCCH-type zinc finger protein OMA-1 serves as a nexus for signals that regulate the transition from oogenesis to embryogenesis. While OMA-1 promotes oocyte maturation during meiosis, destruction of OMA-1 is needed during the first cell division for the initiation of ZIF-1-dependent proteolysis of cell-fate determinants. Mutations in four conserved protein kinase genes-mbk-2/Dyrk, kin-19/CK1alpha, gsk-3, and cdk-1/CDC2-cause stabilization of OMA-1 protein, and their phenotypes are partially suppressed by an oma-1 loss-of-function mutation. OMA-1 proteolysis also depends on Cyclin B3 and on a ZIF-1-independent CUL-2-based E3 ubiquitin ligase complex, as well as the CUL-2-interacting protein ZYG-11 and the Skp1-related proteins SKR-1 and SKR-2.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that a CDK1/Cyclin B3-dependent activity links OMA-1 proteolysis to completion of the first cell cycle and support a model in which OMA-1 functions to prevent the premature activation of cell-fate determinants until after they are asymmetrically partitioned during the first mitosis.