The germ line of sexually reproducing animals, at some point in development, consists of both proliferating and differentiating cells. Proliferation is needed to increase cell number, ensuring that a sufficient quantity of gametes is produced. Meiotic development is needed to produce gametes that can support embryogenesis, each with half the ploidy of the somatic cells. For the reproductive strategy of a given species, regulating the timing and number of gametes, and thus controlling the timing of differentiation and the extent of proliferation, is very important for reproductive fitness. Therefore, animals have evolved regulatory mechanisms that tightly control and balance the proliferation-initiation of meiotic development (meiotic entry) decision. Genetic analysis has identified signaling mechanisms involved in controlling this balance in some animals, including mice, Drosophila, and Caenorhabditis elegans. In this chapter, we present our understanding of the genetic hierarchy controlling the proliferation-meiotic entry decision in C. elegans. A core regulatory network controls the decision under all known conditions (developmental stage, sex, and growth temperature). It consists of a canonical Notch signaling pathway promoting proliferation by inhibiting two redundant mRNA regulatory pathways, the GLD-1 and GLD-2 pathways, which promote meiotic entry. Superimposed on the core network is a complex set of factors, some yet to be identified, and many with regulatory relationships still poorly understood, which control the activities of the GLD-1 and GLD-2 pathways and possibly parallel pathways. Some of the complexity arises from these regulators acting only under certain conditions. We also highlight major areas where we lack knowledge. For example, it is unknown if the entire population of proliferating cells are stem cells capable of self-renewal or if only a small portion are stem cells and the rest are transit amplifying cells.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
EditorsGerald Schatten
Number of pages31
StatePublished - 2006

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
ISSN (Print)0070-2153


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