EGL-20/Wnt and MAB-5/Hox Act Sequentially to Inhibit Anterior Migration of Neuroblasts in C. elegans

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 10;11(2):e0148658. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148658. eCollection 2016.


Directed neuroblast and neuronal migration is important in the proper development of nervous systems. In C. elegans the bilateral Q neuroblasts QR (on the right) and QL (on the left) undergo an identical pattern of cell division and differentiation but migrate in opposite directions (QR and descendants anteriorly and QL and descendants posteriorly). EGL-20/Wnt, via canonical Wnt signaling, drives the expression of MAB-5/Hox in QL but not QR. MAB-5 acts as a determinant of posterior migration, and mab-5 and egl-20 mutants display anterior QL descendant migrations. Here we analyze the behaviors of QR and QL descendants as they begin their anterior and posterior migrations, and the effects of EGL-20 and MAB-5 on these behaviors. The anterior and posterior daughters of QR (QR.a/p) after the first division immediately polarize and begin anterior migration, whereas QL.a/p remain rounded and non-migratory. After ~1 hour, QL.a migrates posteriorly over QL.p. We find that in egl-20/Wnt, bar-1/β-catenin, and mab-5/Hox mutants, QL.a/p polarize and migrate anteriorly, indicating that these molecules normally inhibit anterior migration of QL.a/p. In egl-20/Wnt mutants, QL.a/p immediately polarize and begin migration, whereas in bar-1/β-catenin and mab-5/Hox, the cells transiently retain a rounded, non-migratory morphology before anterior migration. Thus, EGL-20/Wnt mediates an acute inhibition of anterior migration independently of BAR-1/β-catenin and MAB-5/Hox, and a later, possible transcriptional response mediated by BAR-1/β-catenin and MAB-5/Hox. In addition to inhibiting anterior migration, MAB-5/Hox also cell-autonomously promotes posterior migration of QL.a (and QR.a in a mab-5 gain-of-function).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Movement*
  • Glycoproteins / physiology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Egl-20 protein, C elegans
  • Glycoproteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Mab-5 protein, C elegans
  • Transcription Factors
  • Wnt Proteins