The Maternal-to-Zygotic Transition in C. elegans

Scott Robertson, Rueyling Lin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

27 Scopus citations


In Caenorhabditis elegans, the first zygotic transcription can be detected in the 4-cell stage C. elegans embryo, a little over 2. h after fertilization. However, early development until the onset of gastrulation at approximately the 28-cell stage takes place normally even in the absence of zygotic transcription. Therefore, posttranslational and posttranscriptional regulation of the maternal proteins and mRNAs, respectively, that are loaded into the developing oocytes is sufficient to direct development prior to gastrulation. Protein phosphorylation is extensively used throughout the C. elegans maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT): (1) for maternal protein activation, (2) for coordination of the meiotic and mitotic cell cycle, (3) to mark specific proteins for degradation, and/or (4) to switch the biochemical activity of specific proteins. Maternally loaded mRNAs are regulated primarily by a set of maternal RNA-binding proteins (RBPs), each of which binds to sometimes overlapping target sequences within the mRNA 3'UTRs and either promotes or inhibits translation. Most maternal transcripts are uniformly distributed throughout the embryo but specific transcripts are translated only in certain blastomeres. This control is achieved by the asymmetric distribution of the maternal RBPs, such that the blastomere-specific constellation of RBPs present, and their relative levels, determines the translational readout for their target transcripts. In certain well-studied cases, such as the specification of the sole endodermal precursor in the 8-cell embryo, the maternal transcripts and proteins along with their directly targeted zygotic genes have been identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
Subtitle of host publicationThe Maternal-to-Zygotic Transition, 2015
EditorsHoward D. Lipshitz
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)9780124095236
StatePublished - 2015

Publication series

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


  • C. elegans
  • MBK-2
  • MRNA clearance
  • MZT
  • OET
  • OMA-1
  • Oocyte maturation
  • Protein degradation
  • RNA-binding proteins
  • Transcriptional repression
  • Translational repression
  • ZGA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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