Recent studies have revealed non-canonical activities of apoptotic caspases involving specific modulation of gene expression, such as limiting asymmetric divisions of stem-like cell types. Here we report that CED-3 caspase negatively regulates an epidermal p38 stress-responsive MAPK pathway to promote larval development in C. elegans. We show that PMK-1 (p38 MAPK) primes animals for encounters with hostile environments at the expense of retarding post-embryonic development. CED-3 counters this function by directly cleaving PMK-1 to promote development. Moreover, we found that CED-3 and PMK-1 oppose each other to balance developmental and stress-responsive gene expression programs. Specifically, expression of more than 300 genes is inversely regulated by CED-3 and PMK-1. Analyses of these genes showed enrichment for epidermal stress-responsive factors, including the fatty acid synthase FASN-1, anti-microbial peptides, and genes involved in lethargus states. Our findings demonstrate a non-canonical role for a caspase in promoting development by limiting epidermal stress response programs.
Keywords: DUSP; NLP-29; VHP-1; innate immunity; kinase; metabolism; non-apoptotic; phosphatase; proteostasis; translation.
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