A novel relay model of signal amplication in C.elegans

During Caenorhabditis elegans vulval development, the anchor cell (AC) in the somatic gonad secretes an epidermal growth factor (EGF) to activate the EGF receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway in the adjacent vulval precursor cells (VPCs). The inductive AC signal specifies the vulval fates of the three proximal VPCs P5.p, P6.p, and P7.p. The C. elegans Rhomboid homolog ROM-1 increases the range of EGF, allowing the inductive signal to reach the distal VPCs P3.p, P4.p and P8.p, which are further away from the AC. Surprisingly, ROM-1 functions in the signal-receiving VPCs rather than the signal-sending AC. This observation led to the discovery of an AC–independent activity of EGF in the VPCs that promotes vulval cell fate specification and depends on ROM-1. Of the two previously reported EGF splice variants, the longer one requires ROM-1 for its activity, while the shorter form acts independently of ROM-1. We present a model in which ROM-1 relays the inductive AC signal from the proximal to the distal VPCs by allowing the secretion of the LIN-3L splice variant. These results indicate that, in spite of their structural diversity, Rhomboid proteins play a conserved role in activating EGFR signaling in C. elegans, Drosophila, and possibly also in mammals.