UMMS Affiliation

Program in Innate Immunity; Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Department of Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Cellular and Molecular Physiology | Genetics and Genomics | Immunity


Inappropriate activation of innate immune responses in intestinal epithelial cells underlies the pathophysiology of inflammatory disorders of the intestine. Here we examine the physiological effects of immune hyperactivation in the intestine of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We previously identified an immunostimulatory xenobiotic that protects C. elegans from bacterial infection by inducing immune effector expression via the conserved p38 MAP kinase pathway, but was toxic to nematodes developing in the absence of pathogen. To investigate a possible connection between the toxicity and immunostimulatory properties of this xenobiotic, we conducted a forward genetic screen for C. elegans mutants that are resistant to the deleterious effects of the compound, and identified five toxicity suppressors. These strains contained hypomorphic mutations in each of the known components of the p38 MAP kinase cassette (tir-1, nsy-1, sek-1, and pmk-1), demonstrating that hyperstimulation of the p38 MAPK pathway is toxic to animals. To explore mechanisms of immune pathway regulation in C. elegans, we conducted another genetic screen for dominant activators of the p38 MAPK pathway, and identified a single allele that had a gain-of-function (gf) mutation in nsy-1, the MAP kinase kinase kinase that acts upstream of p38 MAPK pmk-1. The nsy-1(gf) allele caused hyperinduction of p38 MAPK PMK-1-dependent immune effectors, had greater levels of phosphorylated p38 MAPK, and was more resistant to killing by the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa compared to wild-type controls. In addition, the nsy-1(gf) mutation was toxic to developing animals. Together, these data suggest that the activity of the MAPKKK NSY-1 is tightly regulated as part of a physiological mechanism to control p38 MAPK-mediated innate immune hyperactivation, and ensure cellular homeostasis in C. elegans.


C. elegans genetics, genetics of immunity, host-pathogen interactions, immune regulation, innate immunity

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Copyright © 2016 Cheesman et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI of Published Version



G3 (Bethesda). 2016 Jan 27;6(3):541-9. doi: 10.1534/g3.115.025650. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

G3 (Bethesda, Md.)

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PubMed ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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