E proteins are conserved regulators of growth and development. We show that the Caenorhabditis elegans E-protein helix-loop-helix-2 (HLH-2) functions as a homodimer in directing development and function of the anchor cell (AC) of the gonad, the critical organizer of uterine and vulval development. Our structure-function analysis of HLH-2 indicates that dimerization drives its degradation in other uterine cells (ventral uterine precursor cells [VUs]) that initially have potential to be the AC. We also provide evidence that this mode of dimerization-driven down-regulation can target other basic HLH (bHLH) dimers as well. Remarkably, human E proteins can functionally substitute for C. elegans HLH-2 in regulating AC development and also display dimerization-dependent degradation in VUs. Our results suggest that dimerization-driven regulation of bHLH protein stability may be a conserved mechanism for differential regulation in specific cell contexts.
Keywords: C. elegans; E2A; HLH-2; TCF3; bHLH.
© 2015 Sallee and Greenwald; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.