EGL-5/ABD-B plays an instructive role in male cell fate determination in the C. elegans somatic gonad.
Hox genes of the Abdominal-B (Abd-B) class regulate gonadal development in diverse metazoans. Here we have investigated the role of the Abd-B homolog egl-5 in C. elegans gonadal development. Previous work showed that egl-5 is required male-specifically in the gonad and that mutant gonads are highly dysgenic and possibly feminized. We have used sex-specific gonadal reporter genes to confirm that the gonads of egl-5 males are extensively feminized. Sex-specific expression of egl-5 requires the global sex determination gene tra-1 and the gonadal masculinizing gene fkh-6, but mutagenesis of a short male gonadal enhancer element in egl-5 suggested that this regulation is indirect. Ectopic expression of EGL-5 in hermaphrodites is sufficient to induce male gonadal gene expression, indicating that EGL-5 plays an instructive role in male gonadal fate determination. EGL-5 acts in parallel with a Wnt/beta-catenin pathway to regulate male gonadal fates and can physically interact with the Wnt pathway transcription factor POP-1 and modulate activity of a POP-1 dependent reporter gene. We propose that EGL-5 imparts sex-specific function on POP-1 by recruiting it to male-specific gonadal target genes.