Exploring the Functional Significance of the Caenorhabditis elegans VAB-1 Eph RTK and DAF-18/PTEN Tumour Suppressor Interaction

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Brisbin, Sarah
DAF-18 , PTEN , C. elegans , VAB-1 , Eph RTK , Protein Interaction , Tumour Suppressor
The Caenorhabditis elegans Eph RTK, VAB-1, has known roles in neuronal and epidermal morphogenesis as well as oocyte maturation through interaction with its ephrin ligands. In humans, Eph receptors are involved in nervous and vascular system development and have been implicated in cancer formation and progression. DAF-18, a C. elegans ortholog of the human tumour suppressor gene, PTEN, has been identified as an interacting partner with the Eph RTK, VAB-1. Mutations in human PTEN have been associated with numerous cancers and in the worm, DAF-18 is a well studied member of the DAF-2/Insulin receptor-like signaling pathway which has roles in dauer formation, thermotolerance and adult longevity. Our lab has previously shown that VAB-1/EphR binds DAF-18. To further investigate the significance of this interaction as well as offer additional function to the proteins involved, I have shown that VAB-1/EphR is a negative regulator of DAF-18/PTEN at the protein level. Western blotting reveals that endogenous expression of DAF-18/PTEN is low in wild-type animals and expression is increased in a vab-1/ephR mutant. Additionally, VAB-1/EphR and DAF-18/PTEN are expressed in head neurons, oocytes and the germline precursor cells, Z2/Z3. vab-1/ephR mutants show increases longevity and sensitivity to dauer conditions which is consistent with increased DAF-18/PTEN activity. Lastly, daf-18(ok480) is able to suppress the oocyte maturation phenotype and increased MAPK expression displayed by vab-1(dx31) animals, providing genetic evidence of an interaction. By identifying the tissues where these proteins are co-expressed and substantiating the interaction with multiple analyses, novel roles may be proposed for each: VAB-1/EphR in DAF-2/Insulin signaling and DAF-18/PTEN in oocyte maturation downstream of VAB-1/EphR signaling. This work provides further understanding of how an organism coordinates complex developmental processes and reiterates the notion that cellular signaling is a complex network of interacting players. As many signaling pathways are evolutionarily conserved, my research in C. elegans may provide a mechanism on how Eph RTKs and PTEN are regulated in more complex organisms, including humans.
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