A Caenorhabditis elegans model for epithelial-neuronal transdifferentiation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 11;105(10):3790-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712159105. Epub 2008 Feb 28.


Understanding transdifferentiation-the conversion of one differentiated cell type into another-is important from both basic science and clinical perspectives. In Caenorhabditis elegans, an epithelial cell named Y is initially part of the rectum but later appears to withdraw, migrate, and then become a motor neuron named PDA. Here, we show that this represents a bona fide transdifferentiation event: Y has epithelial hallmarks without detectable neural characteristics, and PDA has no residual epithelial characteristics. Using available mutants and laser microsurgery, we found that transdifferentiation does not depend on fusion with a neighboring cell or require migration of Y away from the rectum, that other rectal epithelial cells are not competent to transdifferentiate, and that transdifferentiation requires the EGL-5 and SEM-4 transcription factors and LIN-12/Notch signaling. Our results establish Y-to-PDA transdifferentiation as a genetically tractable model for deciphering the mechanisms underlying cellular plasticity in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Transdifferentiation*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism
  • Rectum / cytology
  • Rectum / ultrastructure
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Egl-5 protein, C elegans
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Lin-12 protein, C elegans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Transcription Factors
  • sem-4 protein, C elegans