Proliferating germ cells in Caenorhabditiselegans provide a useful model system for deciphering fundamental mechanisms underlying the balance between proliferation and differentiation. Using gene expression profiling, we identified approximately 200 genes upregulated in the proliferating germ cells of C. elegans. Functional characterization using RNA-mediated interference demonstrated that over forty of these factors are required for normal germline proliferation and development. Detailed analysis of two of these factors defined an important regulatory relationship controlling germ cell proliferation. We established that the kinase VRK-1 is required for normal germ cell proliferation, and that it acts in part to regulate CEP-1(p53) activity. Loss of cep-1 significantly rescued the proliferation defects of vrk-1 mutants. We suggest that VRK-1 prevents CEP-1 from triggering an inappropriate cell cycle arrest, thereby promoting germ cell proliferation. This finding reveals a previously unsuspected mechanism for negative regulation of p53 activity in germ cells to control proliferation.
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