The Caenorhabditis elegans HNF4alpha Homolog, NHR-31, mediates excretory tube growth and function through coordinate regulation of the vacuolar ATPase.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


PLoS genetics, Volume 5, Issue 7, p.e1000553 (2009)


2009, Animals, Basic Sciences Division, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Kidney, Multigene Family, Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear, Vacuolar Proton-Translocating ATPases


Nuclear receptors of the Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor-4 (HNF4) subtype have been linked to a host of developmental and metabolic functions in animals ranging from worms to humans; however, the full spectrum of physiological activities carried out by this nuclear receptor subfamily is far from established. We have found that the Caenorhabditis elegans nuclear receptor NHR-31, a homolog of mammalian HNF4 receptors, is required for controlling the growth and function of the nematode excretory cell, a multi-branched tubular cell that acts as the C. elegans renal system. Larval specific RNAi knockdown of nhr-31 led to significant structural abnormalities along the length of the excretory cell canal, including numerous regions of uncontrolled growth at sites near to and distant from the cell nucleus. nhr-31 RNAi animals were sensitive to acute challenge with ionic stress, implying that the osmoregulatory function of the excretory cell was also compromised. Gene expression profiling revealed a surprisingly specific role for nhr-31 in the control of multiple genes that encode subunits of the vacuolar ATPase (vATPase). RNAi of these vATPase genes resulted in excretory cell defects similar to those observed in nhr-31 RNAi animals, demonstrating that the influence of nhr-31 on excretory cell growth is mediated, at least in part, through coordinate regulation of the vATPase. Sequence analysis revealed a stunning enrichment of HNF4alpha type binding sites in the promoters of both C. elegans and mouse vATPase genes, arguing that coordinate regulation of the vATPase by HNF4 receptors is likely to be conserved in mammals. Our study establishes a new pathway for regulation of excretory cell growth and reveals a novel role for HNF4-type nuclear receptors in the development and function of a renal system.