Indexed on: 08 May '02Published on: 08 May '02Published in: The Journal of cell biology
A common feature of multicellular animals is the ubiquitous presence of the spectrin cytoskeleton. Although discovered over 30 yr ago, the function of spectrin in non-erythrocytes has remained elusive. We have found that the spc-1 gene encodes the only alpha spectrin gene in the Caenorhabditis elegans genome. During embryogenesis, alpha spectrin localizes to the cell membrane in most if not all cells, starting at the first cell stage. Interestingly, this localization is dependent on beta spectrin but not beta(Heavy) spectrin. Furthermore, analysis of spc-1 mutants indicates that beta spectrin requires alpha spectrin to be stably recruited to the cell membrane. Animals lacking functional alpha spectrin fail to complete embryonic elongation and die just after hatching. These mutant animals have defects in the organization of the hypodermal apical actin cytoskeleton that is required for elongation. In addition, we find that the process of elongation is required for the proper differentiation of the body wall muscle. Specifically, when compared with myofilaments in wild-type animals the myofilaments of the body wall muscle in mutant animals are abnormally oriented relative to the longitudinal axis of the embryo, and the body wall muscle cells do not undergo normal cell shape changes.