Mechanotransduction, the sensation of and response to mechanical forces, is of fundamental importance in human physiology. For example, proper sensation and response to pressure stretch, and flow is essential for cardiovascular health. Despite insights from biophysics and from cell biology on engineered substrates, very little is known about how cells convert mechanical information, such as stretch, into the biochemical signals that control tissue function in vivo. Here, we introduce a novel and facile in vivo system for the study of mechanotransduction, the stretch-sensitive and responsive cells of the C. elegans reproductive system. We have discovered that oocyte entry into the tube-shaped organ known as the sperm theca triggers waves of Ca+2 that sweep across the sperm theca, culminating in a smooth squeeze that expels the fertilized embryo. We propose to test the hypothesis that oocyte entry stretches the molecular strain gauge FLN-1/filamin, leading to activation of the small GTPase RHO-1/Rho, PLC-1/phospholipase C-epsilon, IP3- triggered calcium release, and coordinated contraction of the spermathecal tissue.
In Aim 1, the importance of mechanical input in triggering calcium signaling will be investigated. FRET-based stress and strain sensors will be used to quantify the forces experienced by the FLN-1 molecule, and FLN-1 domains needed for response to stretch will be used to isolate key interacting proteins by mass spectrometry.
In Aim 2, the role of FLN-1 and RHO-1 in PLC-1 activation, IP3 production and Ca+2 releases will be determined using genetic manipulation of animals expressing IP3 and Ca+2 biosensors. Downstream regulation of actomyosin contractility and feedback on Ca+2 signaling will be investigated. We have discovered that the novel regulator TAG-341 is required to prevent premature activation of calcium signaling. TAG-341 contains a GAP domain for Rho family GTPases, a BAR domain that may bind and bend membranes, and a C1 domain that may allow the molecule to respond to DAG.
In Aim 3, the function of these domains in activation of and response to IP3 and Ca+2 signaling and the requirement for FLN-1 and PLC-1 in the stretch-sensitive scaffolding of TAG-341 will be determined. This research will lead to an improved understanding of the fundamental mechanism by which cells convert mechanical information into biochemical signals, and how this signaling is integrated to regulate tissue function.

Public Health Relevance

An understanding of how cells sense and respond to mechanical forces is of fundamental importance, for example: proper sensation and response to pressure, stretch, and flow are key determinants of cardiovascular health. Very little is known about how cells convert mechanical information, such as stretch, into the biochemical signals that control tissue function in living animals. This project will fill this knowledge gap by introducing an elegant new system, the stretch-sensitive and responsive cells of the C. elegans reproductive system.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Intercellular Interactions Study Section (ICI)
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Nie, Zhongzhen
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Northeastern University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
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Kelley, Charlotte A; Wirshing, Alison C E; Zaidel-Bar, Ronen et al. (2018) The myosin light-chain kinase MLCK-1 relocalizes during Caenorhabditis elegans ovulation to promote actomyosin bundle assembly and drive contraction. Mol Biol Cell 29:1975-1991
McGovern, Marie; Castaneda, Perla Gisela; Pekar, Olga et al. (2018) The DSL ligand APX-1 is required for normal ovulation in C. elegans. Dev Biol 435:162-169
Wirshing, Alison C E; Cram, Erin J (2018) Spectrin regulates cell contractility through production and maintenance of actin bundles in the Caenorhabditis elegans spermatheca. Mol Biol Cell 29:2433-2449
Wirshing, Alison C E; Cram, Erin J (2017) Myosin activity drives actomyosin bundle formation and organization in contractile cells of theCaenorhabditis elegansspermatheca. Mol Biol Cell 28:1937-1949
Sethi, Kriti; Cram, Erin J; Zaidel-Bar, Ronen (2017) Stretch-induced actomyosin contraction in epithelial tubes: Mechanotransduction pathways for tubular homeostasis. Semin Cell Dev Biol 71:146-152
Cram, Erin J (2015) Mechanotransduction: feeling the squeeze in the C. elegans reproductive system. Curr Biol 25:R74-R75
Cram, Erin J (2014) Mechanotransduction in C. elegans morphogenesis and tissue function. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci 126:281-316