Embryo integrity regulates maternal proteostasis and stress resilience

Genes Dev. 2020 May 1;34(9-10):678-687. doi: 10.1101/gad.335422.119. Epub 2020 Mar 26.


The proteostasis network is regulated by transcellular communication to promote health and fitness in metazoans. In Caenorhabditis elegans, signals from the germline initiate the decline of proteostasis and repression of cell stress responses at reproductive maturity, indicating that commitment to reproduction is detrimental to somatic health. Here we show that proteostasis and stress resilience are also regulated by embryo-to-mother communication in reproductive adults. To identify genes that act directly in the reproductive system to regulate somatic proteostasis, we performed a tissue targeted genetic screen for germline modifiers of polyglutamine aggregation in muscle cells. We found that inhibiting the formation of the extracellular vitelline layer of the fertilized embryo inside the uterus suppresses aggregation, improves stress resilience in an HSF-1-dependent manner, and restores the heat-shock response in the somatic tissues of the parent. This pathway relies on DAF-16/FOXO activation in vulval tissues to maintain stress resilience in the mother, suggesting that the integrity of the embryo is monitored by the vulva to detect damage and initiate an organismal protective response. Our findings reveal a previously undescribed transcellular pathway that links the integrity of the developing progeny to proteostasis regulation in the parent.

Keywords: embryo; heat shock response; protein homeostasis; stress resistance; transcellular regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Communication
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Female
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Helminth Proteins / genetics
  • Helminth Proteins / metabolism
  • Proteostasis / genetics*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Transcriptional Activation / genetics


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Helminth Proteins
  • daf-16 protein, C elegans