microRNAs play critical roles in the survival and recovery of Caenorhabditis elegans from starvation-induced L1 diapause.
Environmental stresses and nutrition availability critically affect animal development. Numerous animal species across multiple phyla enter developmental arrest for long-term survival in unfavorable environments and resume development upon stress removal. Here we show that compromising overall microRNA (miRNA) functions or mutating certain individual miRNAs impairs the long-term survival of nematodes during starvation-induced L1 diapause. We provide evidence that miRNA miR-71 is not required for the animals' entry into L1 diapause, but plays a critical role in long-term survival by repressing the expression of insulin receptor/PI3K pathway genes and genes acting downstream or in parallel to the pathway. Furthermore, miR-71 plays a prominent role in developmental recovery from L1 diapause partly through repressing the expression of certain heterochronic genes. The presented results indicate that interactions between multiple miRNAs and likely a large number of their mRNA targets in multiple pathways regulate the response to starvation-induced L1 diapause.