Serotonin signaling by maternal neurons upon stress ensures progeny survival

Elife. 2020 Apr 23;9:e55246. doi: 10.7554/eLife.55246.


Germ cells are vulnerable to stress. Therefore, how organisms protect their future progeny from damage in a fluctuating environment is a fundamental question in biology. We show that in Caenorhabditis elegans, serotonin released by maternal neurons during stress ensures the viability and stress resilience of future offspring. Serotonin acts through a signal transduction pathway conserved between C. elegans and mammalian cells to enable the transcription factor HSF1 to alter chromatin in soon-to-be fertilized germ cells by recruiting the histone chaperone FACT, displacing histones, and initiating protective gene expression. Without serotonin release by maternal neurons, FACT is not recruited by HSF1 in germ cells, transcription occurs but is delayed, and progeny of stressed C. elegans mothers fail to complete development. These studies uncover a novel mechanism by which stress sensing by neurons is coupled to transcription response times of germ cells to protect future offspring.

Keywords: C. elegans; HSF1; cell biology; cell non-autonomous; epigenetic; histone chaperone; neuronal signaling; serotonin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / physiology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Germ Cells / physiology*
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors / physiology
  • High Mobility Group Proteins / physiology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Transcriptional Elongation Factors / physiology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • HSF1 protein, human
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors
  • High Mobility Group Proteins
  • SSRP1 protein, human
  • Transcriptional Elongation Factors
  • Serotonin
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases