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In molting animals, a cuticular extracellular matrix forms the first barrier to infection and other environmental insults. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans there are two types of cuticle: a wellstudied collagenous cuticle lines the body, and a poorly-understood chitinous cuticle lines the pharynx. In the posterior end of the pharynx is the grinder, a tooth-like cuticular specialization that crushes food prior to transport to the intestine for digestion. We here show that the grinder increases in size only during the molt. To gain molecular insight into the structure of the grinder and pharyngeal cuticle, we performed a microarray analysis to identify mRNAs increased during the molt. We found strong transcriptional induction during the molt of 12 of 15 previously identified abu genes encoding Prion-like (P) glutamine (Q) and asparagine (N) rich PQN proteins, as well as 15 additional genes encoding closely related PQN proteins. abu/pqn genes, which we name the abu/pqn paralog group (APPG) genes, were expressed in pharyngeal cells and the proteins encoded by two APPG genes we tested localized to the pharyngeal cuticle. Deleting the APPG gene abu-14 caused abnormal pharyngeal cuticular structures and knocking down other APPG genes resulted in abnormal cuticular function. We propose that APPG proteins promote the assembly and function of a unique cuticular structure. The strong developmental regulation of the APPG genes raises the possibility that such genes would be identified in transcriptional profiling experiments in which the animals’ developmental stage is not precisely staged.


This article originally appeared in Biology Open, available at DOI: 10.1242/bio.20147500

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.



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