C. elegans RNA-binding proteins PUF-8 and MEX-3 function redundantly to promote germline stem cell mitosis

Dev Biol. 2009 Feb 15;326(2):295-304. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.11.024. Epub 2008 Dec 7.


Maintenance of mitotically cycling germline stem cells (GSCs) is vital for continuous production of gametes. In worms and insects, signaling from surrounding somatic cells play an essential role in the maintenance of GSCs by preventing premature differentiation. In addition, germ cell proteins such as the Drosophila Pumilio and Caenorhabditis elegans FBF, both members of the PUF family translational regulators, contribute to GSC maintenance. FBF functions by suppressing GLD-1, which promotes meiotic entry. However, factors that directly promote GSC proliferation, rather than prevent differentiation, are not known. Here we show that PUF-8, another C. elegans member of the PUF family and MEX-3, a KH domain translational regulator, function redundantly to promote GSC mitosis. We find that PUF-8 protein is highly enriched in mitotic germ cells, which is similar to the expression pattern of MEX-3 described earlier. The puf-8(-) mex-3(-) double mutant gonads contain far fewer germ cells than both single mutants and wild-type. While these cells lack mitotic, meiotic and sperm markers, they retain the germ cell-specific P granules, and are capable of gametogenesis if GLP-1, which normally blocks meiotic entry, is removed. Significantly, we find that at least one of these two proteins is essential for germ cell proliferation even in meiotic entry-defective mutants, which otherwise produce germ cell tumors. We conclude PUF-8 and MEX-3 contribute to GSC maintenance by promoting mitotic proliferation rather than by blocking meiotic entry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / genetics
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / metabolism
  • Female
  • Germ Cells / cytology
  • Germ Cells / physiology*
  • Male
  • Meiosis / physiology
  • Mitosis / physiology*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • MEX-3 protein, C elegans
  • PGL-1 protein, C elegans
  • PUF-8 protein, C elegans
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • GLH-1 protein, C elegans
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases