Background: Fertilization restores the diploid state and begins the process by which the single-cell oocyte is converted into a polarized, multicellular organism. In the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, two of the earliest events following fertilization are secretion of the chitinous eggshell and completion of meiosis, and in this report we demonstrate that the eggshell is essential for multiple developmental events at the one-cell stage.
Results: We show that the GLD (Germline differentiation abnormal)-1-regulated hexosamine pathway enzyme, glucosamine-6-phosphate N-acetyltransferase (GNA)-2, is required for synthesis of uridine diphosphate-N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc), the substrate for eggshell chitin synthesis by chitin synthase-1 (CHS-1). Furthermore, while chs-1(RNAi) or combined RNAi with the chitin-binding proteins, CEJ-1 and B0280.5, does not interfere with normal meiotic timing, lagging chromosomes are observed at meiosis, and polar-body extrusion fails. We also demonstrate that chitin, and either CEJ-1 or B0280.5, are essential for the osmotic/permeability barrier and for movement of the sperm pronucleus/centrosome complex to the cortex, which is associated with the initiation of polarization.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that the eggshell is required in single-cell C. elegans development, playing an essential role in multiple actin-dependent early events. Furthermore, the earliest meiotic roles precede osmotic barrier formation, indicating that the role of the eggshell is not limited to generation of the osmotic barrier.