Indexed on: 01 Dec '07Published on: 01 Dec '07Published in: WormBook : the online review of C. elegans biology
Early development of many species depends on the temporal and spatial control of maternal gene products. This review discusses the control of maternal mRNAs that encode regulators of C. elegans embryogenesis. In the C. elegans embryo, maternal mRNA regulation is crucial to the patterning of early cell fates. Translational control of key mRNAs spatially organizes cell signaling pathways, localizes transcription factor activities, and controls germ cell precursor development. From the few mRNAs studied thus far, some themes are beginning to emerge. Control of maternal mRNA translation begins in the hermaphrodite germ line. Distinct regulatory systems keep mRNAs silent during different stages of oogenesis, and lead to precise temporal and spatial patterns of translation in the embryo. In the embryo, cell polarity factors control the localization of translational regulators. Each maternal mRNA contains multiple elements in its 3' untranslated region (3' UTR) that specify the timing and localization of translation. A relatively small number of RNA-binding proteins likely control many mRNAs through these 3' UTR elements. Therefore, the combination of RNA elements and the regulatory complexes recruited to them specify unique patterns of translation for different mRNAs. The mechanisms of translational control are only beginning to be explored, but are likely to regulate diverse developmental and cellular events in metazoans.