ERM-1 Phosphorylation and NRFL-1 Redundantly Control Lumen Formation in the C. elegans Intestine

Sepers, Jorian J.; Ramalho, João J.; Kroll, Jason R.; Schmidt, Ruben; Boxem, Mike


Reorganization of the plasma membrane and underlying actin cytoskeleton into specialized domains is essential for the functioning of most polarized cells in animals. Proteins of the ezrin-radixin-moesin (ERM) and Na+/H+ exchanger 3 regulating factor (NHERF) family are conserved regulators of cortical specialization. ERM proteins function as membrane-actin linkers and as molecular scaffolds that organize the distribution of proteins at the membrane. NHERF proteins are PDZ-domain containing adapters that can bind to ERM proteins and extend their scaffolding capability. Here, we investigate how ERM and NHERF proteins function in regulating intestinal lumen formation in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. C. elegans has single ERM and NHERF family proteins, termed ERM-1 and NRFL-1, and ERM-1 was previously shown to be critical for intestinal lumen formation. Using CRISPR/Cas9-generated nrfl-1 alleles we demonstrate that NRFL-1 localizes at the intestinal microvilli, and that this localization is depended on an interaction with ERM-1. However, nrfl-1 loss of function mutants are viable and do not show defects in intestinal development. Interestingly, combining nrfl-1 loss with erm-1 mutants that either block or mimic phosphorylation of a regulatory C-terminal threonine causes severe defects in intestinal lumen formation. These defects are not observed in the phosphorylation mutants alone, and resemble the effects of strong erm-1 loss of function. The loss of NRFL-1 did not affect the localization or activity of ERM-1. Together, these data indicate that ERM-1 and NRFL-1 function together in intestinal lumen formation in C. elegans. We postulate that the functioning of ERM-1 in this tissue involves actin-binding activities that are regulated by the C-terminal threonine residue and the organization of apical domain composition through NRFL-1.