Background: Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are members of the conserved transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta superfamily, and play many developmental and homeostatic roles. In C. elegans, a BMP-like pathway, the DBL-1 pathway, controls body size and is involved in innate immunity. How these functions are carried out, though, and what most of the downstream targets of this pathway are, remain unknown.
Results: We performed a microarray analysis and compared expression profiles of animals lacking the SMA-6 DBL-1 receptor, which decreases pathway signaling, with animals that overexpress DBL-1 ligand, which increases pathway signaling. Consistent with a role for DBL-1 in control of body size, we find positive regulation by DBL-1 of genes involved in physical structure, protein synthesis and degradation, and metabolism. However, cell cycle genes were mostly absent from our results. We also identified genes in a hedgehog-related pathway, which may comprise a secondary signaling pathway downstream of DBL-1 that controls body size. In addition, DBL-1 signaling up-regulates pro-innate immunity genes. We identified a reporter for DBL-1 signaling, which is normally repressed but is up-regulated when DBL-1 signaling is reduced.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that body size in C. elegans is controlled in part by regulation of metabolic processes as well as protein synthesis and degradation. This supports the growing body of evidence that suggests cell size is linked to metabolism. Furthermore, this study discovered a possible role for hedgehog-related pathways in transmitting the BMP-like signal from the hypodermis, where the core DBL-1 pathway components are required, to other tissues in the animal. We also identified the up-regulation of genes involved in innate immunity, clarifying the role of DBL-1 in innate immunity. One of the highly regulated genes is expressed at very low levels in wild-type animals, but is strongly up-regulated in Sma/Mab mutants, making it a useful reporter for DBL-1/BMP-like signaling in C. elegans.