mig-5/Dsh controls cell fate determination and cell migration in C. elegans
Timothy Walstona,1, Chaobo Guob,1, Rui Proencab, Mingfu Wuc, Michael Hermanc,
Jeff Hardina,d,⁎, Edward Hedgecockb
aLaboratory of Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1117 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI 53706, USA
bDepartment of Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
cProgram in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
dDepartment of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
Received for publication 6 May 2006; revised 24 June 2006; accepted 30 June 2006
Available online 7 July 2006
Cell fate determination and cell migration are two essential events in the development of an organism. We identify mig-5, a Dishevelled family
member, as a gene that regulates several cell fate decisions and cell migrations that are important during C. elegans embryonic and larval
development. In offspring from mig-5 mutants, cell migrations are defective during hypodermal morphogenesis, QL neuroblast migration, and the
gonad arm migration led by the distal tip cells (DTCs). In addition to abnormal migration, DTC fate is affected, resulting in either an absent or an
extra DTC. The cell fates of the anchor cell in hermaphrodites and the linker cells in the male gonad are also defective, often resulting in the cells
adopting the fates of their sister lineage. Moreover, 2° vulval precursor cells occasionally adopt the 3° vulval cell fate, resulting in a deformed
vulva, and the P12 hypodermal precursor often differentiates into a second P11 cell. These defects demonstrate that MIG-5 is essential in
determining proper cell fate and cell migration throughout C. elegans development.
© 2006 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Keywords: Wnt signaling; Dishevelleds; C. elegans; Distal tip cells; Vulval precursor cells; Hypodermal morphogenesis; P11/P12; Q neuroblast; mig-5; Migration
A fundamental question in developmental biology is how a
single-celled zygote develops into a multicellular organism
composed of a variety of cell types arrayed into complex
patterns. Two mechanisms that are employed to accomplish this
feat are the determination of specific cell fates and the migration
of cells to their final destination within the organism. One way
to diversify cell types during development is through asym-
metric cell divisions, in which sister cells adopt different fates
(reviewed in Betschinger and Knoblich, 2004). This asymmetry
can be accomplished intrinsically within the dividing cell
through molecular segregation of localized determinants,
through asymmetric placement of the mitotic spindle to create
daughters of different sizes, or extrinsically via cell–cell
signaling. When cell signaling is involved, identical sister
cells containing equivalent developmental potentials become
differentiated as the consequence of intercellular communica-
tion between one or both of the sister cells and their neighboring
cells. Feedback mechanisms within each cell quickly reinforce
the differences between the two cells, resulting in separate cell
lineages. After cell fate determination, many cells migrate to
distant sites to eventually interact with clonally distinct cells in
order to form functional tissues within the developing embryo.
Such migrations are also often regulated by cell signaling.
One signaling pathway known to regulate both cell fate
decisions and cell migration is Wnt signaling. Multiple Wnt
signaling pathways have been shown to direct both cell fate
decisions and cell migration in many multicellular organisms.
Wnt signaling functions through a Wnt ligand that interacts with
a Frizzled (Fz) transmembrane receptor.Fzs transduce the signal
at least two Wnt signaling pathways. Wnt/β-catenin signaling
regulates the fate of cells, e.g., during the determination of body
Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
⁎Corresponding author. Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-
Madison, 1117 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI 53706, USA. Fax: +1 608 262
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (J. Hardin).
1Authors contributed equally.
0012-1606/$ - see front matter © 2006 Published by Elsevier Inc.
axes (reviewed in Schier and Talbot, 2005; Weaver and
Kimelman, 2004; Yamaguchi, 2001) and regulation of myogen-
esis in flies and frogs (Kazanskaya et al., 2004; Kozopas and
Nusse, 2002; Shi et al., 2002). The Wnt/planar cell polarity
(PCP) pathway is a regulator of convergent extension cell
movements during gastrulation in frogs and fish (reviewed in
Keller, 2002), germband extension in flies (Irvine and
Wieschaus, 1994), formation of the Organ of Corti in the
mammalian ear (Wang et al., 2005) and neural tube closure
(reviewed in Copp et al., 2003).
Studies in C. elegans have shown that regulation of cell fate
decisions and cell migrations by Wnt signaling is pervasive
throughout development, including gut induction, blastomere
orientation, neuronal migration, and organogenesis (reviewed in
Eisenmann, 2005; Herman and Wu, 2004; Korswagen, 2002).
The C. elegans genome contains three Dsh family members,
dsh-1, dsh-2, and mig-5. The Dshs have been shown to act
redundantly in the regulation of cell fate and spindle orientation
in the early embryo (Walston et al., 2004), and mig-5(RNAi) has
demonstrated that MIG-5 acts in the Wnt/β-catenin pathway to
control the migration of the QL neuroblast during larval
development (Korswagen et al., 2002). MIG-5 has also recently
been shown to regulate the polarity of the B cell through a PCP-
like pathway (Wu and Herman, 2006).
We have conducted a genetic screen for mutations that result
in defects in cell migrations during larval development and have
identified two alleles of the gene mig-5. In this study, we
characterize two mutant alleles of mig-5. We find that maternal
loss of mig-5 results in cell migration defects in the dorsal and
ventral hypodermal cells, Q neuroblasts, and the distal tip cells
of the gonad, and also causes cell fate defects in multiple cells,
precursor cells and the P11/P12 hypodermal cells. These studies
indicate that MIG-5 functions throughout embryonic and larval
development to direct both cell fate and cell migration.
Materials and methods
Strains and alleles
The Bristol strain N2 was used as wild type. Strains were maintained and
cultured as described (Brenner, 1974). Other strains used included NJ301 (dpy-
10(e128), mig-5(rh94), unc-4(e120)), NJ532 (dpy-10(e128), mig-5(rh147),
unc-4(e120)) and KS432 (him-5(e1490); mnEx11(MIG-5∷GFP, STR-
1∷GFP)). The deficiency strains mnDf84, mnDf91, mnDf92, mnDf93,
mnDf94, mnDf97, mnDf98, mnDf99, mnDf101, mnDf103, mnDf104,
mnDf106, mnDf108, and mnDf109 were obtained from the Caenorhabditis
Genetics Ceneter. Nomarski imaging was used to examine the phenotypes of
mig-5 mutant and wild-type worms. In some cases, 0.5–1% 1-phenoxy-2-
propanol was added to the buffer on the pad as an anesthetic to slow movement.
In deficiency complementation mapping, mnDf strains, containing a
deficiency chromosome marked with unc-4(e120), balanced with the inversion
mnC1, and marked with dpy-10(e128) and unc-52(e444), were crossed with
strains containing a mig-5 allele (either rh94 or rh147) flanked by dpy-10(e128)
and unc-4(e120). For non-complementation, homozygous unc-4, heterozygous
dpy-10 F1s were collected and the progeny were examined for abnormal distal
tip cells (DTCs).
Cosmid and phage DNA
Cosmids clones were obtained from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology,
Medical Research Council (MRC), England. Cosmids were grown in 2X YT
buffer and purified by CsCl ultracentrifugation or using an ion exchange column
(Qiagen, Valencia, CA). Phage DNA was prepared using Magic Lambda Preps
DNA Purification System (Promega, Madison, WI).
Southern blot analysis
Genomic DNA was obtained from N2, 13 deficiency strains, and mig-5
mutants (rh94 and rh147). It was digested overnight with BamHI and HindIII
and separated by electrophoresis on a 0.7% agarose gel. The DNA was
transferred to a positively-charged nylon membrane and UV-cross-linked.
Probes for cosmid or phage DNA were labeled with32P or digoxigenin (DIG).
Probe labeling and hybridization were performed as previously described
(Sambrook et al., 1992 and Genius System User's Guide for Filter
Hybridization, Boehringer Mannheim Corp., Indianapolis, IN). Membranes
were stripped and reused several times.
Cloning and subcloning
The cosmid T05C12 was digested with the restriction enzyme AgeI.
Fragments were subcloned into the plasmid vector Bluescript II SK or the
cosmid vector Lorist 2. The Bluescript vector was digested with XmaI to
produce an AgeI compatible overhang and was dephosphorylated using calf
intestinal alkaline phosphatase (CIP). Subcloned fragments contained in the
Lorist 2 vector were obtained by recircularizing the vector following AgeI
Cosmid DNA (100 μg/ml) was injected with the dominant marker rol-6
(su1006) (200 μg/ml) into the gonads of hermaphrodites to create transgenic
strains. F1 progeny displaying the rolling phenotype of mutant rol-6 were
isolatedandF2 progenywere examinedfor the rollingphenotype todemonstrate
the presence of a transgenic line. The migration of the descendants of the QL
neuroblast was examined to identify rescue of the mig-5 phenotype.
Mapping and cloning of the mig-5 gene
In a screen for cell migration defects, two alleles of mig-5,
rh94 and rh147, were isolated and are allelic, based on
complementation testing. Two-factor and three-factor crosses
localized the mig-5 alleles to chromosome II between dpy-10
and unc-4. Deficiency complementation testing demonstrated
that mig-5 is bounded by fer-15 and emb-27 on the left and zyg-
9 and let-252 on the right (Fig. 1A). Southern blot analysis,
using cosmids as probes, identified cosmid F14F5 as containing
at least part of the gene encoded by mig-5. Rescue of the
migration defects by a pool of nearby cosmids and F14F5 alone
demonstrated that F14F5 contains the entire mig-5 gene. Thus,
the location of mig-5 within F14F5 is shown by physical
mapping and by functional rescue of the mig-5 mutant
Further cosmid rescue experiments demonstrate that mig-5
lies between F10B5 and T07C3, and is completely contained
within T05C12 (Fig. 1B). In order to further narrow the
location of mig-5, T05C12 was digested with AgeI to create
two fragments (12.2 kb and 17.2 kb) and the remaining
486 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
religated cosmid, which was 14.8 kb. The 12.2 kb fragment
and the religated 14.8 kb cosmid were injected into mig-5
mutant worms and scored for rescue. Only the 12.2 kb
fragment rescued. Therefore, mig-5 is within the 12.2 kb
AgeI fragment, which contains only five genes, a Dsh protein,
tctex-1 (a t-complex sterility protein), a mucin C.1 homolog,
acr-14 (an acetylcholine receptor), and a casein kinase
homolog (Fig. 1C). In order to determine which gene is
mig-5, the 12.2 kb AgeI-digested fragment was further
digested with SacII to create a 4.0 kb clone that contained
all of the Dsh gene. This smaller 4.0 kb fragment rescued the
migration defects. Deletion of 2.7 kb of the fragment
Fig. 1. Identification and cloning of mig-5 alleles. (A) In chromosomal deficiency tests, mig-5 failed to complement mnDf84, mnDf93, and mnDf101. The top thick
line represents the genetic map of LG II and the location of mig-5 based on deficiency mapping. The dashed lines mark the region of LG II missing in each
chromosomal deficiency. (B) Rescue with cosmids and cosmid subclones indicates that mig-5 is completely contained within a 4.0 kb region of the cosmid T05C12.
The solid bars indicaterescue of the QL migration defect and the patternedbars indicate a failure to rescuethe QL migration defects.T05C12 was digestedwith AgeI to
create a 12.2 kb rescuing fragment that was further digested with SacII to create a 4.0 kb rescuing fragment. A HindIII digestion of the 12.2 kb AgeI fragment failed to
rescue the QL migration defects. (C) A gene map of the 12.2 kb AgeI fragment of T05C12 shows that a Dsh homolog is wholly contained within the 4.0 kb HindIII–
AgeI rescuing fragment. (D) The lesions in mig-5(rh147) and mig-5(rh94) were identified by sequencing. mig-5(rh147) is the product of a G to A point mutation at
base 1259, resulting in a Trp codon becoming a stop codon. mig-5(rh94) is the product of a G to a T point mutation at base 1275 that abrogates a splice site, resulting in
read-through into intron 6 where the first codon is a stop codon.
487T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
abrogates rescue, suggesting that mig-5 is T05C12.6, a
Sequencing of T05C12.6 showed that the mig-5(rh147)
allele is the product of a nonsense mutation, changing a G to an
A at base 1259 of the gene (Fig. 1D). The mig-5(rh94) allele
contains a point mutation, changing a G to a T at base 1275,
resulting in a loss of the 5′ splice site, i.e., the splice donor site,
of intron 6. The net effect is a premature stop at the following
codon from read-through into the intron. Therefore, the mutant
lesions of both alleles are located within T05C12.6/mig-5.
MIG-5 is a C. elegans dishevelled family member
MIG-5 is predicted to be a protein of 666 amino acids. It
contains homology to the Dsh family of proteins. Besides
MIG-5, C. elegans has two other Dsh family members, DSH-1
and DSH-2. All three C. elegans Dshs contain the three major
domains found in all Dshs, DIX, PDZ, and DEP. Alignment of
the overall protein sequences shows that MIG-5 is the most
divergent of the three C. elegans Dshs and that DSH-1 and
DSH-2 are more similar to each other than to MIG-5 (Fig.
2A). The similarity of the C. elegans Dshs to human and fly
Dshs is generally much higher within the three canonical
domains. DSH-1 and DSH-2 show a high degree of identity
with one another within the DIX domain; however, all three C.
elegans Dshs show comparable identity with Dshs from other
species (Fig. 2A). Interestingly, MIG-5 shows low levels of
identity within the PDZ domain compared to the other Dshs,
including DSH-1, which is highly similar to the fly and human
Dshs (Fig. 2B). However, DSH-1 shows less conservation in
the C-terminal DEP domain, while DSH-2 and MIG-5 display
as much identity to the human Dshs as the fly Dsh does (Fig.
2B). Although DSH-1 is more divergent within the DEP
domain when compared to the human Dshs, all three C.
elegans Dshs are equally similar with each other within the
DEP. In summary, the presence of the three main conserved
domains found in Dsh family members suggests that MIG-5 is
also a Dsh.
Fig. 2. MIG-5 is a Dishevelled family member. Matrices comparing the identity between MIG-5 and other known Dsh family members, including Drosophila DSH,
the three human Dvls and the other two C. elegans Dshs. Alignment percentages were obtained using ClustalWalignment of the relevant regions of the proteins. (A)
Bottom left, identity between the full length proteins; top right, identity between the proteins in the DIX domain. (B) Bottom left, identity between the proteins in the
PDZ domain; top right, identity between the proteins in the DEP domain.
488 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
mig-5 regulates spindle orientation in the early embryo
It has been previously shown that a β-catenin-independent
Wnt signaling pathway orients the mitotic spindle of two
blastomeres in the early embryo, EMS and ABar (Rocheleau et
al., 1997; Schlesinger et al., 1999; Thorpe et al., 1997; Walston
et al., 2004). In the EMS blastomere of wild-type 4-cell
embryos, the centrosomes initially set up in a dorsal-ventral
orientation, but then the spindle quickly rotates to an anterior–
posterior orientation (Fig. 3A, Hyman and White, 1987). In Wnt
signaling mutants, the spindle of EMS fails to rotate into the
proper anterior–posterior orientation until anaphase (Fig. 3B).
In 8-cell embryos, three of the four granddaughters of AB
divide in parallel with each other, but the fourth, ABar, divides
perpendicular to its sister cells (Fig. 3C). In Wnt signaling
mutants that result in ABar spindle misalignment, the ABar
blastomere divides parallel to the other three AB descendants
(Fig. 3D). This aberrant spindle alignment results in the
posterior daughter of ABar ultimately adopting a position in
the embryo more anterior than its normally anterior sister.
Fig. 3. Embryonic defects resulting from mig-5 alleles. Wild-type embryos are on the left, mig-5 mutants are on the right. (A, B) EMS spindle defects. (A) Although it
initially sets up in a dorsal–ventral orientation, the mitotic spindle of EMS quickly rotates to an anterior–posterior orientation prior to division of EMS in wild-type
embryos. (B) In an embryo from a mig-5(rh94) mutant mother, the EMS spindle is skewed from an anterior–posterior orientation during early mitosis, but rotates to
the proper orientationprior to the completionof anaphase. (C, D) ABar spindle defects.(C) In wild-type embryos,the mitotic spindle of ABar is orientedperpendicular
and transverse to the other AB grand-daughters. (D) In an embryo from a mig-5(rh147) mutant mother, the ABar spindle aligns parallel with the mitotic spindles of the
other AB granddaughters. (E, F) Dorsal intercalation defects. (E) During dorsal intercalation, two rows of dorsal hypodermal cells alternately intercalate between one
other to form a single row of dorsal cells. (F) In an embryo from a mig-5(rh147) mutant, dorsal cells are seen migrating as groups in the same direction rather than
intercalating between their contralateral partners (pink cells). (G, H) Ventral enclosure defects. (G) Ventral enclosure is driven by the migration of hypodermal cells
from the dorsal to the ventral side of the embryo. When the cells meet at the ventral midline, they form junctions or fuse, successfully enclosing the embryo in an
epithelial sheet. (H) In an embryo from a mig-5(rh94) mutant, the cells at the ventral midline fail to meet, resulting in rupture of internal contents and leaking of cells
(arrow) from the embryo. Scale bar=10 μm.
489 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
In both EMS and ABar, we demonstrated that MIG-5 acts
redundantly with the other two Dshs, dsh-1 and dsh-2, based on
mig-5(RNAi) loss of function experiments (Walston et al.,
2004). Embryos from mig-5(rh147) mutant hermaphrodites
show a stronger loss of function regarding spindle orientation of
both cells, resulting in 14.3% (n=7) spindle misalignment in
EMS and 81.8% (n=11) misalignment in ABar (Figs. 3B, D,
Table 1). Embryos from hermaphrodites homozygous for the
weaker mig-5(rh94) allele display 23.1% (n=16) spindle
misalignment in EMS and 56.3% (n=13) spindle misalignment
in ABar. The mutant alleles of mig-5 confirm the RNAi loss of
function data by demonstrating that Wnt signaling, acting
partially through MIG-5, is responsible for orienting the mitotic
spindles of some blastomeres in the early embryo.
mig-5 controls cell migration during hypodermal
Morphogenesis of the hypodermis in wild-type C. elegans
embryos involves two major cell migration events, dorsal
intercalation and ventral enclosure. During dorsal intercalation,
two rows of ten cells each intercalate between one another to
form a single row of twenty cells that contacts the lateral seam
cells on both sides (Fig. 3E, Williams-Masson et al., 1998). In
embryos from mig-5(rh147) and mig-5(rh94) mothers, dorsal
cells intercalate in a disorganized manner (65.4%, n=26 and
55.8%, n=36, respectively) (Fig. 3F, Table 1). Failure of dorsal
intercalation has previously been shown to result in defects in
elongation later in morphogenesis (Heid et al., 2001). Many of
the mig-5 mutant embryos displaying dorsal intercalation
defects eventually arrest at the 2-fold stage due to a failure of
elongation. During ventral enclosure, cells on the outermost
edges of the hypodermal sheet migrate ventrally across
underlying neuroblasts towards the ventral midline (Williams-
Masson et al., 1997). The cells from each side meet at the
ventral midline, resulting in complete enclosure of the embryo
in an epithelial monolayer (Fig. 3G). In some embryos from
rh147 and rh94 mutant worms, ventral enclosure fails, resulting
in a rupture from the ventral surface (4.5%, n=116 and 6.0%,
n=116, respectively) (Fig. 3H). The defects in hypodermal
morphogenesis (ventral enclosure and elongation failures) in
embryos from mig-5 mutant hermaphrodites result in 9.5%
(n=116) embryonic lethality in mig-5(rh147) and 8.0%
(n=116) embryonic lethality in mig-5(rh94). Thus, mig-5 is
involved in cell migrations of both the dorsal and ventral
hypodermal cells during morphogenesis of C. elegans
mig-5 polarizes the migration of the QL neuroblast
In wild-type C. elegans larvae, the neuroblasts QL and QR
are left–right homologs, which undergo identical cell divisions
during the first larval stage (Sulston and Horvitz, 1977). Each
of the neuroblasts generates three differentiated neurons (AQR/
PQR, AVM/PVM and SDQR/SDQL) and two cells that
undergo apoptosis. Prior to division, the neuroblasts undergo
long-range migrations, with QL migrating to the posterior and
QR to the anterior (Fig. 4A). Wnt signaling regulates the
migration of QL by activating the expression of the Hox gene
mab-5 within QL (Maloof et al., 1999; Salser and Kenyon,
1992). Loss of function of mig-5 via mig-5(RNAi) has been
shown to result in QL migrating anteriorly (Gleason et al.,
2002). Likewise, we find that 100% (n=50) of QL descendants
migrate towards the anterior in larvae from hermaphrodites
homozygous for either mig-5 mutant allele (Fig. 4B, Table 1).
The QL migration phenotype can be completely rescued with
one copy of either maternal or zygotic wild-type mig-5 gene
product (Figs. 4C, D). This demonstrates that only low levels
of mig-5 expression are required to maintain proper QL
polarity and migration.
mig-5 controls the fate of the Z1 and Z4 somatic gonad
In wild-type hermaphrodites, the somatic gonad precursors,
Z1 and Z4, have similar early lineages that initially generate 12
cells (Kimble and Hirsh, 1979). An asymmetric division of Z1
and Z4 results in the more distal daughters ultimately forming
the distal tip cells (DTCs), while the lineage of one of the more
proximal daughters ultimately forms the anchor cell. The DTCs
are responsible for leading the elongation and reflection of the
anterior and posterior gonad arms and for regulating germ cell
proliferation by exerting a mitogenic influence on the germ cells
in their immediate proximity.
In some mig-5 hermaphrodites, one or both DTCs are
missing (18.5%, rh94, n=119; 42.6%, rh147, n=101)
resulting in the loss of the corresponding gonad arm(s) (Figs.
6A, B, Table 1). The loss of anterior or posterior DTCs occurs
at similar frequencies, suggesting that MIG-5 is required for
formation of both DTCs. A single copy of wild-type mig-5 can
almost completely rescue DTC loss in mig-5(rh147) larvae
Frequency of various defects in offspring of mig-5 mutant hermaphrodites (n)
Loss of 1
Loss of both
2° VPC (loss of 1)
2° VPC (loss of 2)
aScored for Glp (abnormal GermLine Proliferation) phenotype, denoting
loss of both DTCs.
490 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
when contributed either maternally (2.0%, n=100) or
zygotically (0%, n=100). Rarely, three DTCs are found in
the gonadal arms in offspring from mig-5 mutants (1.7%, rh94,
n=119; 0%, rh147, n=101). In these few cases, two DTCs
were observed to be associated with the posterior arm of the
gonad. A loss of asymmetry in the Z1 and Z4 daughters has
been shown to occur in other Wnt signaling mutants, including
lin-17/Wnt, sys-1/β-catenin, wrm-1/β-catenin, lit-1/NLK and
pop-1/Tcf (Miskowski et al., 2001; Siegfried and Kimble,
2002; Siegfried et al., 2004; Sternberg and Horvitz, 1988).
This suggests that Wnt/β-catenin signaling, possibly acting
partially through MIG-5, controls the asymmetric cell divisions
that generate the somatic gonad.
Because neither allele showed a fully penetrant loss of
DTCs, the alleles were tested against a chromosomal deletion,
mnDf99, that covers mig-5. In homozygous mig-5 mutant
offspring from mothers who are heterozygous for the mutant
allele and the deficiency, mig-5(rh94) larvae have an increase in
loss of DTCs (17.0%, n=100), while DTC loss is not increased
in mig-5(rh147) larvae (23.5%, n=220). When both the
mothers and the offspring are heterozygous for a mutant mig-
5 allele and the deficiency, loss of DTCs is similar for both mig-
5 alleles (24.0%, rh94, n=100; 22.1%, rh147, n=275). These
results demonstrate a dose-sensitive response for mig-5(rh94),
but not for mig-5(rh147). Therefore, mig-5(rh94) and mig-5
(rh147) are both recessive loss of function mutations, but mig-5
(rh147) is a stronger allele and behaves as a null allele for the
DTC loss phenotype when the larva comes from a mig-5
In wild-type males, Z1 and Z4 undergo equivalent early
divisions to generate a total of 10 cells (Kimble and Hirsh,
1979). Two of these cells, Z1.a and Z1.p, become DTCs. In
male offspring from mig-5 mutant hermaphrodites, germ line
proliferation defects due to loss of DTCs are seen for both
alleles (87%, rh94, n=100; 63%, rh147, n=100), suggesting
that DTC fates are affected in males more prominently than
hermaphrodites (data not shown, Table 1). The more proximal
sisters from the Z1 and Z4 lineages, Z1.paa and Z4.aaa, are
Fig. 4. mig-5 results in neuroblast migration defects in larvae. (A) On the left side of a wild-type young adult hermaphrodite, SDQL and PVM (arrowheads) are located
in the posterior, adjacent to PDEL, PVDL, the sheath (Sh.) and socket (So.) cells. (B) In an offspring from a mig-5 mutant hermaphrodite, SDQL and PVM are absent
from the posterior on the left side, and instead are located at the anterior near BDUL and ALML. (C) The QL migration defect is rescued in the progeny of a mig-5
mutantthat is also expressinga 7.0 kb region of T05C12.On the left side (bottom), SDQL andPVMare located adjacentto PDELandPVDL andthe sheath andsocket
cells. (D) A 12.0 kb subclone of T05C12, that does not include mig-5, does not rescue the QL migration defects in progeny from mig-5 mutants. On the left side of the
worm (bottom), only the PDEL and PVDL neurons are present with the sheath and socket cells. Scale bars=10 μm.
491 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
equivalent and can adopt the 1° fate of the linker cell (LC), a
terminally differentiated cell responsible for leading gonad
elongation, or the 2° fate of becoming a vas deferens precursor
cell (VD) (Kimble and Hirsh, 1979). Similar to the hermaph-
rodite AC/VU decision, cell–cell signaling randomly deter-
mines the fate of these cells such that only one cell becomes the
LC, while the other becomes a VD. In male offspring from mig-
5 mutants, 46% (n=100) of mig-5(rh94) males and 38%
(n=100) of mig-5(rh147) males have two LCs leading two
gonadal arms, instead of one LC and one gonadal arm as in
wild-type larvae (data not shown, Table 1). Therefore,
mutations in mig-5 result in cell fate defects in the lineage of
several cells in the developing somatic gonad of C. elegans.
These fate transformations from 2° to 1° fates could be due to an
interruption of the signaling occurring through cell–cell
contacts or through intrinsic cell lineage transformations.
Additional experiments would be required to distinguish these
Fig. 5. Distal tip cell migrations are aberrant in mig-5 mutants. (A–C) Distal tip cell (DTC) migration defects. (A) In a wild-type gonad, the DTCs initially migrate
away from each other along the ventral surface of the worm. They then turn dorsally and subsequently reflex back on themselves to migrate towards each other again.
Scale bar=20 μm. (B) In a young adult offspring from a mig-5 mutant worm, the anterior DTC has led the anterior gonad arm posteriorly, resulting in two gonad arms
in the posterior and none in the anterior. (C) In a L3 larva from a mig-5 mutant worm, the posterior DTC makes a precocious dorsalward turn (arrowhead) at early L2
prior to posterior migration. Scale bars=20 μm.
Fig. 6. mig-5 regulates cell fate during larval development. (A, B) Loss of DTC fates in the offspring from a mig-5(rh94) mutant results in the loss of gonad arms. (A)
Loss of the anterior DTC and anterior gonad arm. (B) Loss of both DTCs and gonad arms. (C, D) Duplication of the anchor cell in offspring from a mig-5(rh147)
mutant results in vulval defects from faulty cell signaling. (C) Formation of two anchor cells, resulting in two fused vulvae. (D) Formation of two vulvae due to
multiple anchor cells. (E) 2° VPC fate defects. Loss of the anterior 2° VPC results in an asymmetric vulva in a larva from a mig-5(rh147) mutant. It is missing the
symmetrical anterior structures seen in the wild-type vulva in (A). (F) P11/P12 fate defects. In offspring from mig-5 mutants, when P12 adopts the fate of the P11 cell,
P12p migrates anterior and positions itself next to P11p and then divides with cell fates similar to P11p daughters. Scale bars=10 μm.
492T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
DTC migration is regulated by mig-5
In wild-type hermaphrodites, the migrations of the DTCs
follow precise pathways with specific timing (Fig. 5A, Kimble
and White, 1981). During the second larval stage, the DTCs
lead the gonad arms in opposite directions towards the anterior
or posterior of the worm. In the third larval stage, the DTCs turn
and migrate from their ventral position towards the dorsal body
wall. In the fourth larval stage, the DTCs turn and migrate
towards one another again. In offspring from mig-5 mutant
hermaphrodites, one of the DTCs sometimes migrates abnor-
mally (15% rh94, n=119; 5% rh147, n=250) (Fig. 5B, Table
1). Often in these cases, a defective DTC prematurely migrates
dorsally during the second larval stage or both DTCs are
observed migrating in the same direction, either anteriorly or
posteriorly. Similar frequencies of migrations defects were seen
between the anterior and posterior arms of the gonad. Therefore,
mig-5 regulates both the cell fate and migration decisions of the
DTCs during gonad development.
mig-5 affects 2° Vulval Precursor Cell (VPC) fate
In wild-type hermaphrodites, all six vulval precursor cells
(VPCs) have the potential to generate vulval tissue and can
adopt 1°, 2°, or 3° VPC fates (Sternberg and Horvitz, 1986).
The AC activates Ras signaling in P6.p, such that it adopts the
1° fate (Hill and Sternberg, 1992). Notch signaling from P6.p
subsequently induces the 2° fate in neighboring P5.p and P7.p
(Chen and Greenwald, 2004). The remaining VPCs, P3.p, P4.p
and P8.p, adopt the 3° fate. The progeny of the 1° and 2° cells
generate a total of 22 cells that collectively form the vulva,
while the 3° cells or their daughters fuse with the hypodermis.
Wnt signaling has been shown to be a permissive requirement
for cells to adopt the 1° and 2° fates. Mutations in bar-1/β-
catenin, apr-1/APC, and pop-1/Tcf result in all of the VPCs
fusing with the hypodermis (i.e., they adopt 3° fates), while a
mutation in pry-1/Axin results in additional VPCs adopting 1°
and 2° fates (Eisenmann et al., 1998; Gleason et al., 2002; Hoier
et al., 2000). Larvae from mig-5 hermaphrodites display loss of
one (6%, rh94, n=100; 39%, rh147, n=100) or both 2° VPCs
(0%, rh94, n=100; 12%, rh147, n=100) resulting in an
asymmetric vulva or an abnormal mini-vulva (Fig. 6E, Table
1). Interestingly, with the exception of one case, when only one
2° VPC was lost, it is always P5.p that transforms its lineage.
(Additionally, among larval offspring of homozygous mig-5
(rh147) mutants, hermaphrodites rarely display two ACs,
resulting in the induction of two vulvas (3% (n=100); Figs.
6C, D)). Therefore, mig-5 probably regulates a Wnt/β-catenin
pathway to allow specification of the fate of the VPCs.
mig-5 establishes the fate of P12
In wild-type hermaphrodites, a bilaterally symmetric pair of
hypodermal cells, P11/12L and P11/12R, migrate to the ventral
midline (Sulston and White, 1980). Typically, P11/12L adopts
a more anterior position and becomes P11, while P11/12R
moves more posteriorly and becomes P12. The resulting
lineages of P11 and P12 differ such that the posterior daughter
of P11 (P11.p) becomes a hypodermal cell that fuses with the
hyp7 syncytium, whereas the posterior daughter of P12 (P12.p)
Fig. 7. MIG-5∷GFP is expressed throughout development. (A, B) Anti-GFP
immunostaining for MIG-5∷GFP in embryos. (A) MIG-5∷GFP is seen in
almost all cells in an approximately 100-cell embryo, and localizes cortically in
most cells. (B) During hypodermal morphogenesis, MIG-5∷GFP localizes
cortically in all hypodermal cells. (C–E) MIG-5∷GFP expression in larvae. (C)
In an L1 larva, MIG-5∷GFP is expressed in Z1 and Z4 of the four-cell gonad. It
is also found in the underlying vulval precursor cells (VPCs). (D) In an early L4
larva, MIG-5 is present in the distal tip cell of a migrating gonad. (E) MIG-5 is
localized cortically in the daughters of the P11 and P12 cells. (F) In a late L4
larva, MIG-5∷GFP is expressed in several neurons, including the QL progeny,
SDQL and PVM. Scale bars=10 μm.
493T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
goes through another division. That division results in a
hypodermal cell (P12.pa) named hypP12, which is located just
In larvae from mig-5 mutants, P12 adopts the P11 fate (56%
rh94, n=100; 90% rh147, n=100) resulting in two P11.p cells
Thus, cell signaling is defective for multiple processes in
offspring from mig-5 mutant hermaphrodites.
MIG-5∷GFP is expressed throughout embryonic and larval
MIG-5∷GFP, driven by the endogenous mig-5 promoter
(Wu and Herman, 2006), is expressed throughout embryonic
development. It is found in all cells of the early embryo (Fig.
7A). In most cells, the fusion protein is localized to the cell
cortex, with only low levels remaining in the cytoplasm. This
localization is consistent with mig-5 mutant defects, which
suggest that MIG-5 is acting in many cells throughout early
During hypodermal morphogenesis, MIG-5∷GFP expres-
sion is seen in most cells within the embryo. Notably, it is
cortically localized in all hypodermal cells (dorsal and lateral
seam, Fig. 7B; ventral, data not shown). Interestingly, shortly
after dorsal intercalation is completed, MIG-5 leaves the cortex
and becomes more cytoplasmic in dorsal cells. This change in
subcellular localization suggests that MIG-5 either stops acting
or changes its activity, and possibly its function, in the dorsal
hypodermis following intercalation.
In L1 larvae, the four-cell gonadal primordium is being
established and polarized. MIG-5∷GFP is expressed in both Z1
and Z4, which will eventually form the distal tip cells (Fig. 7C).
During gonad migration, the DTCs display high levels of MIG-
5∷GFP (Fig. 7D). MIG-5∷GFP is also present in the cells
underlying the gonadal primordium, which become the VPCs
(Fig. 7C) and later it is present in the fully developed vulva (data
not shown). This expression pattern supports roles for mig-5 in
fate decisions in the gonad and vulva, and in migration of the
MIG-5∷GFP is also present and cortically localized in both
P11 and P12 and their progeny, P11.a, P11.p, P12.a and P12.p
(Fig. 7E), and in SDQL and PVM, two of the neurons derived
from the QL neuroblast (Fig. 7F). Again, MIG-5 is expressed in
cells that display phenotypic defects when the function of mig-5
Wnt signaling is used at many stages of development to
control both cell fates and cell migrations. We demonstrate
here that two mutant alleles of mig-5, one of three
Dishevelleds (Dshs) in C. elegans, cause multiple cell fate
and cell migration defects during embryonic and larval
development. Although Wnt signaling has been shown to
regulate neuroblast migration in C. elegans, Wnt-dependent
regulation of the migration of epithelial cells during hypo-
dermal morphogenesis and the migration of the distal tip cells
(DTCs) during gonad development have not been previously
described in C. elegans.
Redundancy among Dshs or other pathways may result in less
Although we report multiple mutant defects, none of them
are fully penetrant. There are several possibilities for why the
observed penetrance of the defects was not 100%, even when
the putative null allele mig-5(rh147) is placed over a
chromosomal deficiency that deletes mig-5. First, there may
be redundancy of the molecules controlling these events. mig-5
is one of three Dshs in C. elegans, and redundancy between the
three Dshs may result in incomplete penetrance of mutant
defects. We have shown this to be the case for Dsh-dependent
regulation of spindle alignment in the early embryo, where both
MIG-5 and DSH-2 contribute to controlling the orientation of
the spindle in the blastomere ABar (Walston et al., 2004).
Indeed, removal of the function of both mig-5 and dsh-2 results
in embryonic lethality prior to the developmental stages that
defects in mig-5(rh94) and mig-5(rh147) mutants are observed
(T.W. and J.H., unpublished data). This early lethality precludes
a study of the effects of redundancy between the Dshs during
later cell fate and cell migration decisions at the present time.
However, removal of the function of all three Dshs is
incompletely penetrant for B cell polarity defects (M.W. and
M.H., unpublished data), suggesting that other mechanisms, in
addition to Wnt signaling, may be involved in polarizing some
cells in C. elegans.
A separate signaling pathway may be acting in parallel with
Wnt signaling to polarize certain cells, determine cell fates, and
direct cell migrations. Bei et al. demonstrated that a Src tyrosine
kinase pathway acts redundantly with Wnt signaling in the early
embryo to specify endoderm and to control spindle alignment of
the EMS blastomere (Bei et al., 2002). Src signaling or another
functionally redundant signaling pathways could also be
cooperating with Wnt signaling throughout later development.
Dsh as a regulator of cell migration
Recent discoveries point to several potential mechanisms by
which Wnt signaling may direct cell migrations. In mammals,
Wnts and Fzs can act as neuronal guidance cues that direct
anterior–posterior migration of growth cones (Liu et al., 2005;
Lyuksyutova et al., 2003). In Drosophila, commissural axon
guidance is regulated, in part, by Derailed/Ryk, an atypical
receptor tyrosine kinase, which can act as a receptor for a Wnt5
(Yoshikawa et al., 2003). Additionally, C. elegans Wnts, Fzs
and LIN-18/Ryk have recently been shown to regulate both
neuronal polarity and anterior–posterior growth cone guidance,
with EGL-20/Wnt acting specifically as a repulsive guidance
cue (Hilliard and Bargmann, 2006; Pan et al., 2006).
Mammalian Ryk has the ability to bind to Dsh (Lu et al.,
2004), which suggests that MIG-5 could potentially transduce
guidance cues downstream of both Fzs and LIN-18/Ryk.
MIG-5 may also be regulating cell migration using more
traditional guidance cues. In Xenopus embryos, Dsh can
494 T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
mediate cell repulsion by binding to both ephrins and Eph
receptors and activating a planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway
acting through Daam1 (Lee et al., 2006; Tanaka et al., 2003).
Migrating cells in mig-5 mutants may similarly be unable to
transduce the guidance cues from Wnts and other guidance
molecules, resulting in improper polarization of migrating cells.
Dsh signals to multiple pathways during development
Once migrating cells receive MIG-5-dependent guidance
cues, an unanswered question is how MIG-5 transduces such
signals. Dsh proteins act at the crossroads of at least two
downstream pathways, the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and the
PCP pathway. Several defects in mig-5 mutant animals are
similar to mutant phenotypes observed when other genes of
the Wnt/β-catenin pathway are removed. For proper migration
of the QL neuroblast, Wnt/β-catenin signaling regulates
expression of mab-5/Hox. Loss of function of bar-1/β-catenin
or pop-1/Tcf results in defective migration of QL and loss of
mab-5 expression (Herman, 2001; Maloof et al., 1999).
Presumably upstream of MIG-5, loss of egl-20/Wnt, lin-17/
Fz, or mig-1/Fz results in migratory defects of the QL
neuroblast (Harris et al., 1996; Maloof et al., 1999).
Additionally, loss of lin-17/Fz results in QR descendants
migrating too far to the anterior (Whangbo and Kenyon,
1999). However, loss of a different Fz, cfz-2, results in wild-
type QL migrations and the anterior migration of the QR
neuroblast ceases prematurely (Zinovyeva and Forrester,
2005). This suggests that migration of neuroblasts in C.
elegans is a highly coordinated event involving Wnt/β-catenin
signaling acting through multiple Fzs, MIG-5/Dsh, and other
downstream components to regulate transcription within the
The proper establishment of the vulva involves parallel
signaling from a Wnt/β-catenin pathway and a LET-60/Ras
pathway to increase expression of lin-39/Hox (Eisenmann et
al., 1998). Downstream of MIG-5, components of a classical
Wnt/β-catenin destruction complex, PRY-1/Axin and APR-1/
APC, have been shown to control the fate of the VPCs
(Gleason et al., 2002; Hoier et al., 2000). Additionally, BAR-1/
β-catenin and POP-1/Tcf also control VPC fate by activating
expression of lin-39/Hox (Eisenmann and Kim, 2000; Eisen-
mann et al., 1998; Gleason et al., 2002). The defects seen in
mig-5 mutants suggest that it is acting within this Wnt/β-
catenin pathway to direct the cell fates of the VPCs to form the
Likewise, the fates of Z1 and Z4 are also regulated by
components of Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Mutants of sys-1/β-
catenin and pop-1/Tcf display a loss of gonad arms and DTCs,
resulting in extra anchor cells (ACs) (Siegfried et al., 2004;
Siegfried and Kimble, 2002). Additionally, alleles for one of
the other C. elegans Dshs, dsh-2, display a loss of DTCs and
one or both gonad arms and the production of extra ACs in
hermaphrodites and extra linker cells (LCs) in males (Chang et
al., 2005) The localization of DSH-2 was also observed in the
same places that we report for MIG-5 expression, i.e. Z1, Z4,
and DTCs during gonad migration. The similarity in
phenotypes between the mig-5 alleles and dsh-2/Dsh, sys-1/
β-catenin, and pop-1/Tcf mutants suggests that the cell
signaling events that direct the fate of the somatic gonad
include a Wnt/β-catenin pathway that includes at least two of
the three Dshs in C. elegans. However, DTC migration defects
have not been reported for dsh-2 alleles or for downstream
Wnt/β-catenin components. This may demonstrate a non-
redundant, gene-specific division of labor between the Dsh
family members, with MIG-5 potentially regulating a Wnt/β-
catenin-independent signaling pathway, such as a PCP-like
Mammalian tissue culture studies have demonstrated that
Dsh regulates neurite outgrowth during the early stages of
neuronal differentiation using β-catenin-independent mechan-
isms. However, multiple potential pathways have been
suggested, including the Wnt/Ca2+pathway acting through
the DIX domain of Dvl (Fan et al., 2004) and PCP signaling
acting either through the PDZ domain to regulate Rac and JNK
(Rosso et al., 2005) or through a region between the PDZ and
DEP domains to activate Rho (Kishida et al., 2004). The cell
migration defects that we describe in the mig-5 alleles could be
the result of removing the function of a PCP or other similar
pathway to direct migration and polarity of the cells that contain
Indeed, in C. elegans, the lack of reported migration
phenotypes in loss-of-function backgrounds for downstream
Wnt/β-catenin components suggests that MIG-5 may be
directing cell migration through a Wnt/β-catenin-independent
pathway. Wu and Herman demonstrated that the PCP
components, RHO-1/RhoA and LET-502/ROCK, act through
MIG-5 to coordinate spindle orientation and polarity of the B
cell and its daughters in C. elegans males (Wu and Herman,
2006). Other PCP homologs, including cdh-3 and cdh-4 (Ds
and Fat), cdh-6 (Fmi) and tag-15 (Pk) were also shown to be
active in the B cell, but perhaps of less significance. These
results suggest that MIG-5 may direct a PCP-like signaling
pathway to specify both lineage and polarity.
Another possibility is that MIG-5 may regulate migration by
directly binding to actin. A region of the DIX domain in the
mammalian Dsh, Dvl2, contains an actin-binding domain
(Capelluto et al., 2002). When Dsh is bound by actin, it
functions in Wnt/β-catenin- and JNK-independent manners,
and instead acts through casein kinase Iε (Capelluto et al., 2002;
Torres and Nelson, 2000). When actin-associated Dvl2 function
is removed, the actin becomes disorganized and motility of cells
decreases (Wechezak and Coan, 2005). This pathway may be
similar to the Wnt/spindle orientation pathway in blastomeres of
early C. elegans embryos. Regulation of migration of the DTCs
and neuroblasts by MIG-5 may likewise be acting directly on
the cytoskeleton rather than through more elaborate signal
In summary, we have shown that MIG-5 directs cell polarity,
cell fate and cell migration during embryonic and larval
development in C. elegans. In the future, we anticipate using
structure-function analysis of individual Dsh domains to more
closely study the role of the Dshs, including mig-5, and their
potential downstream effectors in these processes.
495T. Walston et al. / Developmental Biology 298 (2006) 485–497
This work was supported by NSF grant IOB0518081
awarded to J.H., NIH grant GM56339 awarded to M.H., and
NIH grant R01NS026295 awarded to E.H. Some nematode
strains used in this work were provided by the Caenorhabditis
Genetics Center, which is funded by the NIH National Center
for Research Resources (NCRR).
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