A Real-Time Biosensor for ERK Activity Reveals Signaling Dynamics during C. elegans Cell Fate Specification

Claire de la Cova, Robert Townley, Sergi Regot, Iva Greenwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Kinase translocation reporters (KTRs) are genetically encoded fluorescent activity sensors that convert kinase activity into a nucleocytoplasmic shuttling equilibrium for visualizing single-cell signaling dynamics. Here, we adapt the first-generation KTR for extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) to allow easy implementation in vivo. This sensor, “ERK-nKTR,” allows quantitative and qualitative assessment of ERK activity by analysis of individual nuclei and faithfully reports ERK activity during development and neural function in diverse cell contexts in Caenorhabditis elegans. Analysis of ERK activity over time in the vulval precursor cells, a well-characterized paradigm of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-Ras-ERK signaling, has identified dynamic features not evident from analysis of developmental endpoints alone, including pulsatile frequency-modulated signaling associated with proximity to the EGF source. The toolkit described here will facilitate studies of ERK signaling in other C. elegans contexts, and the design features will enable implementation of this technology in other multicellular organisms. A genetically encoded biosensor for ERK activity allows qualitative or quantitative assessment by analysis of individual nuclei during development and neural function in diverse cell contexts in C. elegans. In-depth analysis of ERK activity over time in the vulval precursor cells has identified dynamic features including pulsatile frequency-modulated signaling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)542-553.e4
JournalDevelopmental Cell
Volume42
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 11 2017

Keywords

  • C. elegans
  • ERK
  • biosensor
  • extracellular signal-regulated kinase
  • kinase translocation reporter
  • vulval development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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