Caenorhabditis elegans molting is a process during which the apical extracellular matrix of the epidermis, the cuticle, is remodeled through a process of degradation and re-synthesis. Using a genetic approach, we identified nekl-3 as essential for the completion of molting. NEKL-3 is highly similar to the mammalian NEK kinase family members NEK6 and NEK7. Animals homozygous for a hypomorphic mutation in nekl-3, sv3, had a novel molting defect in which the central body region, but not the head or tail, was unable to shed the old cuticle. In contrast, a null mutation in nekl-3, gk506, led to complete enclosure within the old cuticle. nekl-2, which is most similar to mammalian NEK8, was also essential for molting. Mosaic analyses demonstrated that NEKL-2 and NEKL-3 were specifically required within the large epidermal syncytium, hyp7, to facilitate molting. Consistent with this, NEKL-2 and NEKL-3 were expressed at the apical surface of hyp7 where they localized to small spheres or tubular structures. Inhibition of nekl-2, but not nekl-3, led to the mislocalization of LRP-1/megalin, a cell surface receptor for low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-binding proteins. In addition, nekl-2 inhibition led to the mislocalization of several other endosome-associated proteins. Notably, LRP-1 acts within hyp7 to facilitate completion of molting, suggesting at least one mechanism by which NEKL-2 may influence molting. Notably, our studies failed to reveal a requirement for NEKL-2 or NEKL-3 in cell division, a function reported for several mammalian NEKs including NEK6 and NEK7. Our findings provide the first genetic and in vivo evidence for a role of NEK family members in endocytosis, which may be evolutionarily conserved.
Keywords: C. elegans; Endocytosis; Kinases; Molting; NEK; NEKL-2; NEKL-3; hyp7.
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