Gene expression oscillations in C. elegans underlie a new developmental clock

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2021;144:19-43. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2020.11.001. Epub 2020 Dec 7.


During C. elegans larval development, thousands of genes, accounting for >20% of the transcriptome, exhibit oscillatory expression with large amplitudes. The time of peaking varies for different genes, but expression generally peaks once per larval stage, with both the oscillation period and larval stage duration varying in concert with temperature. This and other evidence support the existence of a gene expression oscillator that functions as a developmental clock. In this article, we review what is known about the biology, architecture and possible mechanisms of this clock. We compare it to other oscillators, and highlight tools and approaches suited to its study. Finally, we point out implications of these wide-spread and dynamic changes of gene expression on any type of gene expression profiling experiment in C. elegans larvae and how such experiments need to be controlled.

Keywords: C. elegans; Cuticle; Developmental checkpoint; Gene expression profiling; Lethargus; Molt; Oscillator; Segmentation; Transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / genetics
  • Larva / genetics
  • Transcriptome* / genetics