Pathogen-induced Caenorhabditis elegans developmental plasticity has a hormetic effect on the resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses
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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:187 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-187Published: 21 September 2012
Phenotypic plasticity, i.e. the capacity to change the phenotype in response to changes in the environment without alteration of the genotype, is important for coping with unstable environments. In spite of the ample evidence that microorganisms are a major environmental component playing a significant role in eukaryotic organisms health and disease, there is not much information about the effect of microorganism-induced developmental phenotypic plasticity on adult animals’ stress resistance and longevity.
We examined the consequences of development of Caenorhabditis elegans larvae fed with different bacterial strains on stress resistance and lifespan of adult nematodes. Bacterial strains used in this study were either pathogenic or innocuous to nematodes. Exposure to the pathogen during development did not affect larval survival. However, the development of nematodes on the pathogenic bacterial strains increased lifespan of adult nematodes exposed to the same or a different pathogen. A longer nematode lifespan, developed on pathogens and exposed to pathogens as adults, did not result from an enhanced capacity to kill bacteria, but is likely due to an increased tolerance to the damage inflicted by the pathogenic bacteria. We observed that adult nematodes developed on a pathogen induce higher level of expression of the hsp-16.2 gene and have higher resistance to heat shock than nematodes developed on an innocuous strain. Therefore, the increased resistance to pathogens could be, at least partially, due to the early induction of the heat shock response in nematodes developed on pathogens. The lifespan increase is controlled by the DBL-1 transforming growth factor beta-like, DAF-2/DAF-16 insulin-like, and p38 MAP kinase pathways. Therefore, the observed modulation of adult nematode lifespans by developmental exposure to a pathogen is likely a genetically controlled response.
Our study shows that development on pathogens has a hormetic effect on adult nematodes, as it results in increased resistance to different pathogens and to heat shock. Such developmental plasticity of C. elegans nematodes, which are self-fertilizing homozygous animals producing offspring with negligible genetic variation, could increase the probability of survival in changing environments.