How animals coordinate gene expression in response to starvation is an outstanding problem closely linked to aging, obesity, and cancer. Newly hatched Caenorhabditis elegans respond to food deprivation by halting development and promoting long-term survival (L1 diapause), thereby providing an excellent model for the study of starvation response. Through a genetic search, we have discovered that the tumor suppressor Rb critically promotes survival during L1 diapause and most likely does so by regulating the expression of genes in both insulin-IGF-1 signaling (IIS)-dependent and -independent pathways mainly in neurons and the intestine. Global gene expression analyses suggested that Rb maintains the "starvation-induced" transcriptome and represses the "refeeding-induced" transcriptome, including the repression of many pathogen-, toxin-, and oxidative-stress-inducible and metabolic genes, as well as the activation of many other stress-resistant genes, mitochondrial respiratory chain genes, and potential IIS receptor antagonists. Notably, the majority of genes dysregulated in starved L1 Rb(-) animals were not found to be dysregulated in fed conditions. Altogether, these findings identify Rb as a critical regulator of the starvation response and suggest a link between functions of tumor suppressors and starvation survival. These results may provide mechanistic insights into why cancer cells are often hypersensitive to starvation treatment.
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