The anterior-posterior axis of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo is elaborated at the one-cell stage by the polarization of the partitioning (PAR) proteins at the cell cortex. Polarization is established under the control of the Rho GTPase RHO-1 and is maintained by the Rho GTPase CDC-42. To understand more clearly the role of the Rho family GTPases in polarization and division of the early embryo, we constructed a fluorescent biosensor to determine the localization of CDC-42 activity in the living embryo. A genetic screen using this biosensor identified one positive (putative guanine nucleotide exchange factor [GEF]) and one negative (putative GTPase activating protein [GAP]) regulator of CDC-42 activity: CGEF-1 and CHIN-1. CGEF-1 was required for robust activation, whereas CHIN-1 restricted the spatial extent of CDC-42 activity. Genetic studies placed CHIN-1 in a novel regulatory loop, parallel to loop described previously, that maintains cortical PAR polarity. We found that polarized distributions of the nonmuscle myosin NMY-2 at the cell cortex are independently produced by the actions of RHO-1, and its effector kinase LET-502, during establishment phase and CDC-42, and its effector kinase MRCK-1, during maintenance phase. CHIN-1 restricted NMY-2 recruitment to the anterior during maintenance phase, consistent with its role in polarizing CDC-42 activity during this phase.
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