The Caenorhabditis elegans genome encodes 284 nuclear receptor (NR) genes. Among these 284 NR genes are 15 genes conserved among the Metazoa. Here, we analyze the expression and function of eight heretofore uncharacterized conserved C. elegans NR genes. Reporter gene analysis demonstrates that these genes have distinct expression patterns and that a majority of the C. elegans cell types express a conserved NR gene. RNA interference with NR gene function resulted in visible phenotypes for three of the genes, revealing functions in various processes during postembryonic development. Five of the conserved NR genes are orthologs of NR genes that function during molting and metamorphosis in insects. Functional studies confirm a role for most of these 'ecdysone cascade' NR orthologs during the continuous growth and dauer molts. Transcript levels for these genes fluctuate in a reiterated pattern during the molting cycles, reminiscent of the expression hierarchy observed in the insect ecdysone response. Together, these analyses provide a foundation for further dissecting the role of NRs in nematode development as well as for evaluating conservation of NR functions among the Metazoa.
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