Start me up: Cell signaling and the journey from oocyte to embryo in C. elegans

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Abstract

Intercellular communication plays a pivotal role in regulating and coordinating oocyte meiosis and fertilization, key triggers for embryonic development. The nematode Caenorhabaditis elegans has emerged as an important experimental paradigm for exploring these fundamental reproductive processes and their regulation. The oocytes of most animal species arrest during meiotic prophase and complete meiosis in response to intercellular signaling in the process of meiotic maturation. Oocyte meiotic maturation is defined by the transition between diakinesis and metaphase of meiosis I and is accompanied by nuclear envelope breakdown and meiotic spindle assembly. As such, the meiotic maturation process is essential for completing meiosis and a prerequisite for successful fertilization. In C. elegans, the processes of meiotic maturation, ovulation, and fertilization are temporally coupled: sperm utilize the major sperm protein as a hormone to trigger oocyte meiotic maturation, and, in turn, the maturing oocyte signals its own ovulation, leading to fertilization. The powerful genetic screens possible in C. elegans have led to the identification of several sperm cell surface proteins that are required for the interaction and fusion of gametes at fertilization. The study of these proteins provides fundamental insights into fertilization mechanisms, their role in speciation, and their potential conservation across phyla. Signaling processes sparked by fertilization are required for meiotic chromosome segregation and initiating the embryonic program. Here we review recent advances in understanding how signaling mechanisms contribute to the oocyte-to-embryo transition in C. elegans. Developmental Dynamics 235:571–585, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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