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Keywords:

  • C. elegans;
  • nucleus;
  • aging;
  • intestine;
  • microvilli

Summary

The roundworm C. elegans is widely used as an aging model, with hundreds of genes identified that modulate aging (Kaeberlein et al., 2002. Mech. Ageing Dev.123, 1115–1119). The development and bodyplan of the 959 cells comprising the adult have been well described and established for more than 25 years (Sulston & Horvitz, 1977. Dev. Biol.56, 110–156; Sulston et al., 1983. Dev. Biol.100, 64–119.). However, morphological changes with age in this optically transparent animal are less well understood, with only a handful of studies investigating the pathobiology of aging. Age-related changes in muscle (Herndon et al., 2002. Nature419, 808–814), neurons (Herndon et al., 2002), intestine and yolk granules (Garigan et al., 2002. Genetics161, 1101–1112; Herndon et al., 2002), nuclear architecture (Haithcock et al., 2005. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA102, 16690–16695), tail nuclei (Golden et al., 2007. Aging Cell6, 179–188), and the germline (Golden et al., 2007) have been observed via a variety of traditional relatively low-throughput methods. We report here a number of novel approaches to study the pathobiology of aging C. elegans. We combined histological staining of serial-sectioned tissues, transmission electron microscopy, and confocal microscopy with 3D volumetric reconstructions and characterized age-related morphological changes in multiple wild-type individuals at different ages. This enabled us to identify several novel pathologies with age in the C. elegans intestine, including the loss of critical nuclei, the degradation of intestinal microvilli, changes in the size, shape, and cytoplasmic contents of the intestine, and altered morphologies caused by ingested bacteria. The three-dimensional models we have created of tissues and cellular components from multiple individuals of different ages represent a unique resource to demonstrate global heterogeneity of a multicellular organism.