Alteration in the timing of particular developmental events can lead to major morphological changes that have profound effects on the life history of an organism. Insights into developmental timing mechanisms have been revealed in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, in which a regulatory network of heterochronic genes times events during larval development, ensuring that stage-specific programs occur in the appropriate sequence and on schedule. Developmental timing studies in C. elegans led to the landmark discovery of miRNAs and continue to enhance our understanding of the regulation and activity of these small regulatory molecules. Current views of the heterochronic gene pathway are summarized here, with a focus on the ways in which miRNAs contribute to temporal control and how miRNAs themselves are regulated. Finally, the conservation of heterochronic genes and their functions in timing, as well as their related roles in stem cells and cancer, are highlighted.
Copyright (c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.