Removal of Polycomb repressive complex 2 makes C. elegans germ cells susceptible to direct conversion into specific somatic cell types

Cell Rep. 2012 Nov 29;2(5):1178-86. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.09.020. Epub 2012 Oct 25.


How specific cell types can be directly converted into other distinct cell types is a matter of intense investigation with wide-ranging basic and biomedical implications. Here, we show that removal of the histone 3 lysine 27 (H3K27) methyltransferase Polycomb repressor complex 2 (PRC2) permits ectopically expressed, neuron-type-specific transcription factors ("terminal selectors") to convert Caenorhabditis elegans germ cells directly into specific neuron types. Terminal-selector-induced germ-cell-to-neuron conversion can be observed not only upon genome-wide loss of H3K27 methylation in PRC2(-) animals but also upon genome-wide redistribution of H3K27 methylation patterns in animals that lack the H3K36 methyltransferase MES-4. Manipulation of the H3K27 methylation status not only permits conversion of germ cells into neurons but also permits hlh-1/MyoD-dependent conversion of germ cells into muscle cells, indicating that PRC2 protects the germline from the aberrant execution of multiple distinct somatic differentiation programs. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the normally multistep process of development from a germ cell via a zygote to a terminally differentiated somatic cell type can be short-cut by providing an appropriate terminal selector transcription factor and manipulating histone methylation patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Genome
  • Germ Cells / cytology*
  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Methylation
  • Muscle Cells / cytology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nuclear Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 / genetics
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 / metabolism*
  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • RNA Interference
  • Repressor Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Histones
  • LIN-53 protein, C elegans
  • Mes-3 protein, C elegans
  • Mes-4 protein, C elegans
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • mes-2 protein, C elegans
  • mes-6 protein, C elegans
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2