A Werner syndrome protein homolog in C. elegans (WRN-1) was immunolocalized to the nuclei of germ cells, embryonic cells, and many other cells of larval and adult worms. When wrn-1 expression was inhibited by RNA interference (RNAi), a slight reduction in C. elegans life span was observed, with accompanying signs of premature aging, such as earlier accumulation of lipofuscin and tissue deterioration in the head. In addition, various developmental defects, including small, dumpy, ruptured, transparent body, growth arrest and bag of worms, were induced by RNAi. The frequency of these defects was accentuated by gamma-irradiation, implying that they were derived from spontaneous or induced DNA damage. wrn-1(RNAi) worms showed accelerated larval growth irrespective of gamma-irradiation, and pre-meiotic germ cells had an abnormal checkpoint response to DNA replication blockage. These observations suggest that WRN-1 acts as a checkpoint protein for DNA damage and replication blockage. This idea is also supported by an accelerated S phase in wrn-1(RNAi) embryonic cells. wrn-1(RNAi) phenotypes similar to those of Werner syndrome, such as premature aging and short stature, suggest wrn-1-deficient C. elegans as a useful model organism for Werner syndrome.
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