A high-content assay for identifying small molecules that reprogram C. elegans germ cell fate

Joshua A. Benson, Erin E. Cummings, Linda P. O'Reilly, Myon Hee Lee, Stephen C. Pak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Recent breakthrough discoveries have shown that committed cell fates can be reprogrammed by genetic, chemical and environmental manipulations. The germline of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans provides a tractable system for studying cell fate reprogramming within the context of a whole organism. To explore the possibility of using C. elegans in high-throughput screens (HTS), we developed a high-throughput workflow for testing compounds that modulate cell fate reprogramming. We utilized puf-8; lip-1 mutants that have enhanced MPK-1 (an ERK homolog)/MAP kinase (MAPK) signaling. Wild-type C. elegans hermaphrodites produce both sperm and oocytes, and are thus self-fertile. However, puf-8; lip-1 mutants produce only sperm and are sterile. Notably, compounds that pharmacologically down-regulate MPK-1 (an ERK homolog)/MAP kinase (MAPK) signaling are able to reprogram germ cell fate and restore fertility to these animals. puf-8; lip-1 mutants provide numerous challenges for HTS. First, they are sterile as homozygotes and must be maintained as heterozygotes using a balancer chromosome. Second, homozygous animals for experimentation must be physically separated from the rest of the population. Third, a high quality, high-content assay has not been developed to measure compound effects on germ cell fate reprogramming. Here we describe a semi-automated high-throughput workflow that enables effective sorting of homozygous puf-8; lip-1 mutants into 384-well plates using the COPAS™ BIOSORT. In addition, we have developed an image-based assay for rapidly measuring germ cell reprogramming by measuring the number of viable progeny in wells. The methods presented in this report enable the use of puf-8; lip-1 mutants in HTS campaigns for chemical modulators of germ cell reprogramming within the context of a whole organism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-535
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014


  • C. elegans
  • Cell fate
  • Drug screening
  • High-content screening
  • Reprogramming


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