C. elegans molts at the end of each of its four larval stages but this cycle ceases at the reproductive adult stage. We have identified a regulator of molting, pqn-47. Null mutations in pqn-47 cause a developmental arrest at the first larval molt, showing that this gene activity is required to transit the molt. Mutants with weak alleles of pqn-47 complete the larval molts but fail to exit the molting cycle at the adult stage. These phenotypes suggest that pqn-47 executes key aspects of the molting program including the cessation of molting cycles. The pqn-47 gene encodes a protein that is highly conserved in animal phylogeny but probably misannotated in genome sequences due to much less significant homology to a yeast transcription factor. A PQN-47::GFP fusion gene is expressed in many neurons, vulval precursor cells, the distal tip cell (DTC), intestine, and the lateral hypodermal seam cells but not in the main body hypodermal syncytium (hyp7) that underlies, synthesizes, and releases most of the collagenous cuticle. A functional PQN-47::GFP fusion protein localizes to the cytoplasm rather than the nucleus at all developmental stages, including the periods preceding and during ecdysis when genetic analysis suggests that pqn-47 functions. The cytoplasmic localization of PQN-47::GFP partially overlaps with the endoplasmic reticulum, suggesting that PQN-47 is involved in the extensive secretion of cuticle components or hormones that occurs during molts. The mammalian and insect homologues of pqn-47 may serve similar roles in regulated secretion.
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