MRCK-1 Drives Apical Constriction in C. elegans by Linking Developmental Patterning to Force Generation

Curr Biol. 2016 Aug 22;26(16):2079-89. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.06.010. Epub 2016 Jul 21.


Apical constriction is a change in cell shape that drives key morphogenetic events including gastrulation and neural tube formation. Apical force-producing actomyosin networks drive apical constriction by contracting while connected to cell-cell junctions. The mechanisms by which developmental patterning regulates these actomyosin networks and associated junctions with spatial precision are not fully understood. Here we identify a myosin light-chain kinase MRCK-1 as a key regulator of C. elegans gastrulation that integrates spatial and developmental patterning information. We show that MRCK-1 is required for activation of contractile actomyosin dynamics and elevated cortical tension in the apical cell cortex of endoderm precursor cells. MRCK-1 is apically localized by active Cdc42 at the external, cell-cell contact-free surfaces of apically constricting cells, downstream of cell fate determination mechanisms. We establish that the junctional components α-catenin, β-catenin, and cadherin become highly enriched at the apical junctions of apically constricting cells and that MRCK-1 and myosin activity are required in vivo for this enrichment. Taken together, our results define mechanisms that position a myosin activator to a specific cell surface where it both locally increases cortical tension and locally enriches junctional components to facilitate apical constriction. These results reveal crucial links that can tie spatial information to local force generation to drive morphogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Actomyosin / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Movement
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Gastrulation*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Intercellular Junctions / metabolism
  • Myosins / metabolism
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • cdc-42 protein, C elegans
  • Actomyosin
  • MRCK-1 kinase, C elegans
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins
  • Myosins