Molecular analysis of the C. elegans sex-determining gene tra-1: A gene encoding two zinc finger proteins

David Zarkower, Jonathan Hodgkin

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The tra-1 gene is the terminal control gene for somatic sex determination in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we identify two tra-1 mRNAs: one is a 1.5 kb transcript that peaks in abundance in the second larval stage, and the other is a 5 kb transcript that is present at relatively constant abundance throughout development. Both RNAs occur at similar levels in both sexes, suggesting that regulation of tra-1 is posttranscriptional. Neither RNA is germline restricted. The two RNAs are colinear at their 5′ ends: the shorter RNA encodes a protein with two zinc finger motifs, and the longer RNA encodes a protein with five zinc fingers. The identification of eight nonsense mutations confirms that these are authentic tra-1 RNAs and demonstrates that the longer one is essential for tra-1 activity. The transcription pattern reveals that alternative mRNA processing governs the number of zinc fingers in the resulting tra-1 protein. The tra-1 fingers are strikingly similar to those of three other proteins, the products of the human GLI and GLI3 and Drosophila cubitus interruptus Dominant (ciD) genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-249
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 24 1992

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jan Fogg and Terry Smith for synthesizing oligonucleotides, Susan Slrome for providing glp-4 (bnZ), and Stuart Kim, Robert Barstead, and lchi Maruyama for providing cDNA libraries. We are grateful to Julie Ahringer. Vivian Bardwell, Mario de Bono, Steven Hird, Patricia Kuwabara, Sean Munro, and Mark Bretscher for critical reading of the manuscript. We thank them and numerous other colleagues past and present at the MRC LMB, particularly Andrew Spence and David Pilgrim, for many valuable discussions and much useful advice. D. Z. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation.


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