3' UTRs are the primary regulators of gene expression in the C. elegans germline

Curr Biol. 2008 Oct 14;18(19):1476-82. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.08.013. Epub 2008 Sep 25.


How genes are regulated to produce the correct assortment of proteins for every cell type is a fundamental question in biology. For many genes, regulation begins at the DNA level with the use of promoter sequences to control transcription. Regulation can also occur after transcription using sequences in the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of the mRNA to affect mRNA stability and/or translation [1]. The C. elegans gonad is an excellent tissue to study gene regulation during development: In the adult, germ cells are arranged in order of differentiation, with undifferentiated progenitors at one end of the gonad, cells in meiotic prophase in the middle, and gametes at the other end [2]. Using a transgenic assay, we have compared the contribution of promoters and 3' UTRs to gene regulation during germline development. We find that for most genes tested, 3' UTRs are sufficient for regulation. With the exception of promoters activated during spermatogenesis, promoters are permissive for expression in all germ cell types (from progenitors to oocytes and sperm). In progenitors, 3' UTRs inhibit the production of meiotic and oocyte proteins by posttranscriptional mechanisms involving PUF- and KH-domain RNA-binding proteins. Our findings indicate that many genes rely primarily on 3' UTRs, not promoters, for regulation during germline development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA-Binding Proteins