Maternal Diet and Insulin-Like Signaling Control Intergenerational Plasticity of Progeny Size and Starvation Resistance.

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Maternal effects of environmental conditions produce intergenerational phenotypic plasticity. Adaptive value of these effects depends on appropriate anticipation of environmental conditions in the next generation, and mismatch between conditions may contribute to disease. However, regulation of intergenerational plasticity is poorly understood. Dietary restriction (DR) delays aging but maternal effects have not been investigated. We demonstrate maternal effects of DR in the roundworm C. elegans. Worms cultured in DR produce fewer but larger progeny. Nutrient availability is assessed in late larvae and young adults, rather than affecting a set point in young larvae, and maternal age independently affects progeny size. Reduced signaling through the insulin-like receptor daf-2/InsR in the maternal soma causes constitutively large progeny, and its effector daf-16/FoxO is required for this effect. nhr-49/Hnf4, pha-4/FoxA, and skn-1/Nrf also regulate progeny-size plasticity. Genetic analysis suggests that insulin-like signaling controls progeny size in part through regulation of nhr-49/Hnf4, and that pha-4/FoxA and skn-1/Nrf function in parallel to insulin-like signaling and nhr-49/Hnf4. Furthermore, progeny of DR worms are buffered from adverse consequences of early-larval starvation, growing faster and producing more offspring than progeny of worms fed ad libitum. These results suggest a fitness advantage when mothers and their progeny experience nutrient stress, compared to an environmental mismatch where only progeny are stressed. This work reveals maternal provisioning as an organismal response to DR, demonstrates potentially adaptive intergenerational phenotypic plasticity, and identifies conserved pathways mediating these effects.






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Hibshman, Jonathan D, Anthony Hung and L Ryan Baugh (2016). Maternal Diet and Insulin-Like Signaling Control Intergenerational Plasticity of Progeny Size and Starvation Resistance. PLoS Genet, 12(10). p. e1006396. 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006396 Retrieved from

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L. Ryan Baugh

Professor of Biology

The Baugh Lab is interested in phenotypic plasticity and physiological adaptation to variable environmental conditions. We are using the roundworm C. elegans to understand how animals adapt to starvation using primarily genetic and genomic approaches. We are studying how development is governed by nutrient availability, how animals survive starvation, and the long-term consequences of starvation including adult disease and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

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