The C. elegans Hox gene egl-5 is required for correct development of the hermaphrodite hindgut and for the response to rectal infection by Microbacterium nematophilum.
Nicholas HR., Hodgkin J.
Members of the Hox gene family encode transcription factors that specify positional identity along the anterior-posterior axis of nearly all metazoans. One among the Caenorhabditis elegans Hox genes is egl-5. A deletion allele of egl-5 was isolated in a screen for animals which fail to develop swollen tails when exposed to the bacterial pathogen Microbacterium nematophilum. We show that compromised rectal development, which occurs as a result of loss of egl-5 function, results in a failure of rectal epithelial cells to express the ERK MAP kinase mpk-1, which was previously shown to mediate tail-swelling in response to bacterial infection. Tissue-specific rescue experiments demonstrated that egl-5 and mpk-1 act autonomously in rectal cells in the morphological response. The weak egl-5 allele (n1439), which does not compromise rectal development, fails to affect tail-swelling. We find that this allele carries an inserted repeat element approximately 13.8 kb upstream of the egl-5 open reading frame, which specifically disrupts the cell-specific expression of this gene in HSN egg-laying neurons. Together these findings extend the complexity of regulation and function of Hox genes in C. elegans and demonstrate the importance of their tissue-specific expression for correct development and response to infection.