Molecules in the extracellular matrix (ECM) regulate cellular behavior in both development and pathology. Fibulin-1 is a conserved ECM protein. The Caenorhabditis elegans ortholog, FBL-1, regulates gonad-arm elongation and expansion by acting antagonistically to GON-1, an ADAMTS (a disintegrin and metalloprotease with thrombospondin motifs) family protease. The elongation of gonad arms is directed by gonadal distal tip cells (DTCs). Here we report that a dominant mutation in the EMB-9/type IV collagen a1 subunit can compensate for loss of FBL-1 activity in gonadogenesis. A specific amino acid substitution in the noncollagenous 1 (NC1) domain of EMB-9 suppressed the fbl-1 null mutant. FBL-1 was required to maintain wild-type EMB-9 in the basement membrane (BM), whereas mutant EMB-9 was retained in the absence of FBL-1. EMB-9 (either wild type or mutant) localization in the BM enhanced PAT-3/β-integrin expression in DTCs. In addition, overexpression of PAT-3 partially rescued the DTC migration defects in fbl-1 mutants, suggesting that EMB-9 acts in part through PAT-3 to control DTC migration. In contrast to the suppression of fbl-1(tk45), mutant EMB-9 enhanced the gonadal defects of gon-1(e1254), suggesting that it gained a function similar to that of wild-type FBL-1, which promotes DTC migration by inhibiting GON-1. We propose that FBL-1 and GON-1 control EMB-9 accumulation in the BM and promote PAT-3 expression to control DTC migration.
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