Feedback regulation of BMP signaling by Caenorhabditis elegans cuticle collagens
Cellular responsiveness to environment, including changes in extracellular matrix (ECM), is critical for normal processes such as development and wound healing, but can go awry, as in oncogenesis and fibrosis. One type of molecular pathway contributing to this responsiveness is the BMP signaling pathway. Owing to their broad and potent functions, BMPs and their pathways are regulated at multiple levels. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the BMP ligand DBL-1 is a regulator of body size. We previously showed that DBL-1/BMP signaling determines body size through transcriptional regulation of cuticle collagen genes. We now identify feedback regulation of DBL-1/BMP through analysis of four DBL-1–regulated collagen genes. Inactivation of any of these genes reduces DBL-1/BMP signaling, measured by a pathway activity reporter. Furthermore, depletion of these collagens reduces GFP::DBL-1 fluorescence and acts unexpectedly at the level of dbl-1 transcription. We conclude that cuticle, a specialized ECM, impinges on DBL-1/BMP expression and signaling. Interestingly, the feedback regulation of DBL-1/BMP signaling by collagens is likely to be contact independent due to physical separation of the cuticle from DBL-1–expressing cells in the ventral nerve cord. Our results provide an entry point into a novel regulatory mechanism for BMP signaling, with broader implications for mechanical regulation of gene expression.