Differential regulation of DNA damage response activation between somatic and germline cells in Caenorhabditis elegans

Cell Death Differ. 2012 Nov;19(11):1847-55. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2012.69. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


The germline of Caenorhabditis elegans is a well-established model for DNA damage response (DDR) studies. However, the molecular basis of the observed cell death resistance in the soma of these animals remains unknown. We established a set of techniques to study ionizing radiation-induced DNA damage generation and DDR activation in a whole intact worm. Our single-cell analyses reveal that, although germline and somatic cells show similar levels of inflicted DNA damage, somatic cells, differently from germline cells, do not activate the crucial apical DDR kinase ataxia-telengiectasia mutated (ATM). We also show that DDR signaling proteins are undetectable in all somatic cells and this is due to transcriptional repression. However, DNA repair genes are expressed and somatic cells retain the ability to efficiently repair DNA damage. Finally, we demonstrate that germline cells, when induced to transdifferentiate into somatic cells within the gonad, lose the ability to activate ATM. Overall, these observations provide a molecular mechanism for the known, but hitherto unexplained, resistance to DNA damage-induced cell death in C. elegans somatic cells. We propose that the observed lack of signaling and cell death but retention of DNA repair functions in the soma is a Caenorhabditis-specific evolutionary-selected strategy to cope with its lack of adult somatic stem cell pools and regenerative capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Signal Transduction
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases