RNA-binding proteins of the PUF family are well conserved post-transcriptional regulators that control a variety of developmental processes. The C. elegans protein PUF-8 is essential for several aspects of germ cell development including the maintenance of germline stem cells (GSCs). To explore the molecular mechanisms underlying its function, we have identified 160 germline-expressed mRNAs as potential targets of PUF-8. We generated GFP::H2B-3' UTR fusions for 17 mRNAs to assay their post-transcriptional regulation in germ cells. Twelve transgenes were not expressed in the mitotic germ cells, and depletion of PUF-8 led to misexpression of six of them in these cells. In contrast, the expression of 3' UTR fusion of hip-1, which encodes the HSP-70 interacting protein, was dependent on PUF-8. These results indicate that PUF-8 may regulate the expression of its targets both negatively as well as positively. We investigated the PUF-8-mediated post-transcriptional control of one mRNA, namely pal-1, which encodes a homeodomain transcription factor responsible for muscle development. Our results show that PUF-8 binds in vitro to specific sequences within pal-1 3' UTR that are critical for post-transcriptional suppression in GSCs. Removal of PUF-8 resulted in PAL-1 misexpression, and PAL-1-dependent misexpression of the myogenic promoter HLH-1 in germ cells. We propose that PUF-8 protects GSCs from the influence of somatic differentiation factors such as PAL-1, which are produced in the maternal germline but meant for embryogenesis.
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