The synthetic multivulva (synMuv) genes define two functionally redundant pathways that antagonize RTK/Ras signaling during Caenorhabditis elegans vulval induction. The synMuv gene lin-35 encodes a protein similar to the mammalian tumor suppressor pRB and has been proposed to act as a transcriptional repressor. Studies using mammalian cells have shown that pRB can prevent cell cycle progression by inhibiting DP/E2F-mediated transcriptional activation. We identified C. elegans genes that encode proteins similar to DP or E2F. Loss-of-function mutations in two of these genes, dpl-1 DP and efl-1 E2F, caused the same vulval abnormalities as do lin-35 Rb loss-of-function mutations. We propose that rather than being inhibited by lin-35 Rb, dpl-1 DP and efl-1 E2F act with lin-35 Rb in transcriptional repression to antagonize RTK/Ras signaling during vulval development.
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