Prior to fertilization, oocytes undergo meiotic maturation (cell cycle progression) and ovulation (expulsion from the ovary). To begin the study of these processes in Caenorhabditis elegans, we have defined a time line of germline and somatic events by video microscopy. As the oocyte matures, its nuclear envelope breaks down and its cell cortex rearranges. Immediately thereafter, the oocyte is ovulated by increasing contraction of the myoepithelial gonadal sheath and relaxation of the distal spermatheca. By systematically altering the germ cell contents of the hermaphrodite using mutant strains, we have uncovered evidence of four cell-cell interactions that regulate maturation and ovulation. (1) Both spermatids and spermatozoa induce oocyte maturation. In animals with a feminized germline, maturation is inhibited and oocytes arrest in diakinesis. The introduction of sperm by mating restores maturation. (2) Sperm also directly promote sheath contraction. In animals with a feminized or tumorous germline, contractions are infrequent, whereas in animals with a masculinized germline or with sperm introduced by mating, contractions are frequent. (3 and 4) The maturing oocyte both induces spermathecal dilation and modulates sheath contractions at ovulation; dilation of the distal spermatheca and sharp increases in sheath contraction rates are only observed in the presence of a maturing oocyte.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.