Adverse environmental conditions can affect rates of animal developmental progression and lead to temporary developmental quiescence (diapause), exemplified by the dauer larva stage of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). Remarkably, patterns of cell division and temporal cell-fate progression in C. elegans larvae are not affected by changes in developmental trajectory. However, the underlying physiological and gene regulatory mechanisms that ensure robust developmental patterning despite substantial plasticity in developmental progression are largely unknown. Here, we report that diapause-inducing pheromones correct heterochronic developmental cell lineage defects caused by insufficient expression of let-7 family microRNAs in C. elegans. Moreover, two conserved endocrine signaling pathways, DAF-7/TGF-β and DAF-2/Insulin, that confer on the larva diapause and non-diapause alternative developmental trajectories interact with the nuclear hormone receptor, DAF-12, to initiate and regulate a rewiring of the genetic circuitry controlling temporal cell fates. This rewiring includes engagement of certain heterochronic genes, lin-46, lin-4, and nhl-2, that are previously associated with an altered genetic program in post-diapause animals, in combination with a novel ligand-independent DAF-12 activity, to downregulate the critical let-7 family target Hunchback-like-1 (HBL-1). Our results show how pheromone or endocrine signaling pathways can coordinately regulate both developmental progression and cell-fate transitions in C. elegans larvae under stress so that the developmental schedule of cell fates remains unaffected by changes in developmental trajectory. Ilbay and Ambros show that pheromones and nutritional signals coordinately regulate developmental progression and cell-fate transitions during C. elegans development, and this coordination involves activation of an alternative temporal downregulation program for a critical let-7 family target, HBL-1.
Ilbay, O., & Ambros, V. (2019). Pheromones and Nutritional Signals Regulate the Developmental Reliance on let-7 Family MicroRNAs in C. elegans. Current Biology, 29(11), 1735-1745.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.04.034