Actin organization and endocytic trafficking are controlled by a network linking NIMA-related kinases to the CDC-42-SID-3/ACK1 pathway

PLoS Genet. 2018 Apr 2;14(4):e1007313. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007313. eCollection 2018 Apr.


Molting is an essential process in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans during which the epidermal apical extracellular matrix, termed the cuticle, is detached and replaced at each larval stage. The conserved NIMA-related kinases NEKL-2/NEK8/NEK9 and NEKL-3/NEK6/NEK7, together with their ankyrin repeat partners, MLT-2/ANKS6, MLT-3/ANKS3, and MLT-4/INVS, are essential for normal molting. In nekl and mlt mutants, the old larval cuticle fails to be completely shed, leading to entrapment and growth arrest. To better understand the molecular and cellular functions of NEKLs during molting, we isolated genetic suppressors of nekl molting-defective mutants. Using two independent approaches, we identified CDC-42, a conserved Rho-family GTPase, and its effector protein kinase, SID-3/ACK1. Notably, CDC42 and ACK1 regulate actin dynamics in mammals, and actin reorganization within the worm epidermis has been proposed to be important for the molting process. Inhibition of NEKL-MLT activities led to strong defects in the distribution of actin and failure to form molting-specific apical actin bundles. Importantly, this phenotype was reverted following cdc-42 or sid-3 inhibition. In addition, repression of CDC-42 or SID-3 also suppressed nekl-associated defects in trafficking, a process that requires actin assembly and disassembly. Expression analyses indicated that components of the NEKL-MLT network colocalize with both actin and CDC-42 in specific regions of the epidermis. Moreover, NEKL-MLT components were required for the normal subcellular localization of CDC-42 in the epidermis as well as wild-type levels of CDC-42 activation. Taken together, our findings indicate that the NEKL-MLT network regulates actin through CDC-42 and its effector SID-3. Interestingly, we also observed that downregulation of CDC-42 in a wild-type background leads to molting defects, suggesting that there is a fine balance between NEKL-MLT and CDC-42-SID-3 activities in the epidermis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Endocytosis
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Molting / genetics
  • Mutation
  • NIMA-Related Kinases / genetics
  • NIMA-Related Kinases / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • RNA Interference
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Actins
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • cdc-42 protein, C elegans
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • SID-3 protein, C elegans
  • NIMA-Related Kinases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins