Left-right patterning in the C. elegans embryo: Unique mechanisms and common principles

Commun Integr Biol. 2011 Jan;4(1):34-40. doi: 10.4161/cib.4.1.14144.


The development of bilateral symmetry during the evolution of species probably 600 million years ago brought about several important innovations: It fostered efficient locomotion, streamlining and favored the development of a central nervous system through cephalization. However, to increase their functional capacities, many organisms exhibit chirality by breaking their superficial left-right (l-r) symmetry, which manifests in the lateralization of the nervous system or the l-r asymmetry of internal organs. In most bilateria, the mechanisms that maintain consistent l-r asymmetry throughout development are poorly understood. This review highlights insights into mechanisms that couple early embryonic l-r symmetry breaking to subsequent l-r patterning in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. A recently identified strategy for l-r patterning in the early C. elegans embryo is discussed, the spatial separation of midline and anteroposterior axis, which relies on a rotational cellular rearrangement and non-canonical Wnt signaling. Evidence for a general relevance of rotational/torsional rearrangements during organismal l-r patterning and for non-canonical Wnt signaling/planar cell polarity as a common signaling mechanism to maintain l-r asymmetry is presented.

Keywords: Wnt signaling; embryonic development; left-right axis; planar cell polarity; symmetry breaking.