PAR-3 is required for epithelial cell polarity in the distal spermatheca of C. elegans.
PAR-3 is localized asymmetrically in epithelial cells in a variety of animals from Caenorhabditis elegans to mammals. Although C. elegans PAR-3 is known to act in early blastomeres to polarize the embryo, a role for PAR-3 in epithelial cells of C. elegans has not been established. Using RNA interference to deplete PAR-3 in developing larvae, we discovered a requirement for PAR-3 in spermathecal development. Spermathecal precursor cells are born during larval development and differentiate into an epithelium that forms a tube for the storage of sperm. Eggs must enter the spermatheca to complete ovulation. PAR-3-depleted worms exhibit defects in ovulation. Consistent with this phenotype, PAR-3 is transiently expressed and localized asymmetrically in the developing somatic gonad, including the spermathecal precursor cells of L4 larvae. We found that the defect in ovulation can be partially suppressed by a mutation in IPP-5, an inositol polyphosphate 5-phosphatase, indicating that one effect of PAR-3 depletion is disruption of signaling between oocyte and spermatheca. Microscopy revealed that the distribution of AJM-1, an apical junction marker, and apical microfilaments are severely affected in the distal spermatheca of PAR-3-depleted worms. We propose that PAR-3 activity is required for the proper polarization of spermathecal cells and that defective ovulation results from defective distal spermathecal development.