Differential roles of the microRNA let-7 in C. elegans tissue development

Rausch, Magdalene. Differential roles of the microRNA let-7 in C. elegans tissue development. 2015, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_11305

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The organs and tissues of the human body comprise of an astonishing variety of cells as different in morphology and function as muscle cells and neurons. Amazingly, despite their different protein contents, they largely contain the identical genomic information. In order to understand the processes that enable this differentiation, we need to determine the underlying regulatory mechanisms. A very recent discovery in this context was the posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression by microRNAs (miRNAs). miRNAs are small RNA molecules that mediate translational repression and degradation of mRNA transcripts through partial complementarity to their 3’ untranslated region (UTR) . Among the first miRNAs to be identified, let-7 stands out for its high conservation in sequence and developmental functions in development throughout the animal kingdom. During my PhD, I studied the role of let-7 in Caenorhabditis elegans in the context of two distinct processes of tissue development, namely differentiation of the epidermis (called hypodermis), and morphogenesis of the vulva. The functions of the let-7 miRNA in formation of the adult cuticle have been extensively studied and are well understood. let-7 controls differentiation of specific, mitotically active epidermal cells by inducing cell cycle exit, fusion, and switch to an adult specific transcriptional program upon repression of targets such as lin-41, daf-12, hbl-1 and let-60/ras. I set out to identify novel interactors of let-7 in a genome-wide RNAi screen for suppression of the lethal let-7 bursting phenotype. Candidates were then verified using fluorescence-based reporter systems for onset of hypodermis differentiation and intensity of repression of a known target. Thereby, I was able to validate a whole set of novel members of the let-7 network, comprising genes downstream in the pathway as well as potential regulators of let-7 activity. Notably, both groups of repressors contain factors required for cell cycle progression and mitosis, which indicates an active crosstalk between let-7 and the cell-cycle machinery. In a second project, I explored the molecular basis for the prominent let-7 vulval bursting phenotype. Despite the absence of overproliferation or any other obvious phenotype in vulval morphogenesis, I was able to show that let-7 activity is required in the vulva, and that its major function in this context is repression of a single target, namely lin-41. Disruption of let-7 binding to lin-41 through modification of the let-7 complementary sites by CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing suffices to trigger the bursting phenotype, proving that repression of a single target is the key function of the miRNA in this context. In summary, my work shows that while both differentiation of hypodermis as well as vulval integrity are mediated through repression of lin-41, the downstream effect of this regulation seem to differ, suggesting that let-7 can be wired to control distinct processes depending on the cellular context. With respect to the latest findings both in C. elegans as well as in mammals, it will be interesting to determine if this depends on differential molecular functions of LIN-41 in the two tissues.
Advisors:Zavolan, Mihaela
Committee Members:Grosshans, Helge and Cochella, Luisa
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Biozentrum > Computational & Systems Biology > Bioinformatics (Zavolan)
UniBasel Contributors:Zavolan, Mihaela
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:11305
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:1 vol.
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:22 Jan 2018 15:52
Deposited On:03 Sep 2015 09:12

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