Antimicrobial effectors in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans: an outgroup to the Arthropoda

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 May 26;371(1695):20150299. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0299.


Nematodes and arthropods likely form the taxon Ecdysozoa. Information on antimicrobial effectors from the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans may thus shed light on the evolutionary origin of these defences in arthropods. This nematode species possesses an extensive armory of putative antimicrobial effector proteins, such as lysozymes, caenopores (or saposin-like proteins), defensin-like peptides, caenacins and neuropeptide-like proteins, in addition to the production of reactive oxygen species and autophagy. As C. elegans is a bacterivore that lives in microbe-rich environments, some of its effector peptides and proteins likely function in both digestion of bacterial food and pathogen elimination. In this review, we provide an overview of C. elegans immune effector proteins and mechanisms. We summarize the experimental evidence of their antimicrobial function and involvement in the response to pathogen infection. We further evaluate the microbe-induced expression of effector genes using WormExp, a recently established database for C. elegans gene expression analysis. We emphasize the need for further analysis at the protein level to demonstrate an antimicrobial activity of these molecules both in vitro and in vivoThis article is part of the themed issue 'Evolutionary ecology of arthropod antimicrobial peptides'.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; antimicrobial peptides; caenacins; caenopores; lysozymes; reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / genetics*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / microbiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / virology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Immunoproteins / genetics
  • Immunoproteins / metabolism


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Immunoproteins