Mouse mAb M38 was used in indirect immunofluorescence experiments to detect a stage-specific antigen on the surface of the first larval stage (L1) of the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and to detect alterations in the apparent expression of this antigen in two distinct classes of C. elegans mutants. In previously described srf-2 and srf-3 mutants (Politz S. M., M. T. Philipp, M. Estevez, P.J. O'Brien, and K. J. Chin. 1990. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 87:2901-2905), the antigen is not detected on the surface of any stage. Conversely, in srf-(yj43) and other similar mutants, the antigen is expressed on the surface of the first through the fourth (L4) larval stages. To understand the molecular basis of these alterations, the antigen was characterized in gel immunoblotting experiments. After SDS-PAGE separation and transfer to nitrocellulose, M38 detected a protein antigen in extracts of wild-type L1 populations. The antigen was sensitive to digestion by Pronase and O-glycanase (endo-alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminidase), suggesting that it is an O-linked glycoprotein. This antigen was not detected in corresponding extracts of wild-type L4s or srf-2 or srf-3 L1s, but was detected in extracts of srf-(yj43) L4s. The antigen-defective phenotype of srf-3 was epistatic to the heterochronic mutant phenotype of srf-(yj43) in immunofluorescence tests of the srf-3 srf-(yj43) double mutant, suggesting that srf-(yj43) causes incorrect regulation of a pathway of antigen formation that requires wild-type srf-3 activity.

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