The Caenorhabditis elegans dauer larva: developmental effects of pheromone, food, and temperature

Dev Biol. 1984 Apr;102(2):368-78. doi: 10.1016/0012-1606(84)90201-x.


Three environmental cues influence both the entry into and exit from the developmentally arrested dispersal stage called the dauer larva: a dauer-inducing pheromone, food, and temperature. The pheromone, which is a measure of population density, induces dauer larva formation at the second (L2) molt and inhibits recovery in a dose-dependent manner. Food acts competitively to reduce the frequency of dauer larva formation and to enhance recovery. The pheromone causes a specific extension of the second larval stage, coupled with a transient decrease in the growth rate of the L2. Second-stage larvae grown in the presence of added pheromone are morphologically distinguishable from L2 larvae grown without pheromone. We have named the pre-dauer L2 larva the L2d. Commitment to dauer larva formation can occur at the L2d molt. When L2d larvae are shifted out of pheromone to a lawn of E. coli just before the L2d molt, a few worms complete development into dauer larvae. In contrast, worms are essentially committed to the non-dauer life cycle by the first larval molt if the L1 larvae are not grown in appropriately high levels of pheromone. In the presence of pheromone, the percentage of dauer larva formation is enhanced at higher temperatures within the normal growth range. Temperature down-shifts induce dauer larva recovery. Temperature-shift experiments show that the enhancement of dauer larva formation requires exposure to the higher temperature around the L1 molt. Two sensory mutants defective in thermotaxis are altered in their sensitivity to the dauer-inducing pheromone, but their pheromone response retains temperature dependence. Response of dauer larvae to environmental cues is highly age dependent, with older dauer larvae exhibiting an increased tendency to recover.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis / growth & development*
  • Caenorhabditis / physiology
  • Food*
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Pharynx / physiology
  • Pheromones / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors


  • Pheromones