CDC-42 Orients Cell Migration during Epithelial Intercalation in the Caenorhabditis elegans Epidermis.
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Cell intercalation is a highly directed cell rearrangement that is essential for animal morphogenesis. As such, intercalation requires orchestration of cell polarity across the plane of the tissue. CDC-42 is a Rho family GTPase with key functions in cell polarity, yet its role during epithelial intercalation has not been established because its roles early in embryogenesis have historically made it difficult to study. To circumvent these early requirements, in this paper we use tissue-specific and conditional loss-of-function approaches to identify a role for CDC-42 during intercalation of the Caenorhabditis elegans dorsal embryonic epidermis. CDC-42 activity is enriched in the medial tips of intercalating cells, which extend as cells migrate past one another. Moreover, CDC-42 is involved in both the efficient formation and orientation of cell tips during cell rearrangement. Using conditional loss-of-function we also show that the PAR complex functions in tip formation and orientation. Additionally, we find that the sole C. elegans Eph receptor, VAB-1, functions during this process in an Ephrin-independent manner. Using epistasis analysis, we find that vab-1 lies in the same genetic pathway as cdc-42 and is responsible for polarizing CDC-42 activity to the medial tip. Together, these data establish a previously uncharacterized role for polarized CDC-42, in conjunction with PAR-6, PAR-3 and an Eph receptor, during epithelial intercalation.