Glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchor attachment is one of the most common posttranslational protein modifications. Using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we determined that GPI-anchored proteins are present in germline cells and distal tip cells, which are essential for the maintenance of the germline stem cell niche. We identified 24 C. elegans genes involved in GPI-anchor synthesis. Inhibition of various steps of GPI-anchor synthesis by RNA interference or gene knockout resulted in abnormal development of oocytes and early embryos, and both lethal and sterile phenotypes were observed. The piga-1 gene (orthologue of human PIGA) codes for the catalytic subunit of the phosphatidylinositol N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase complex, which catalyzes the first step of GPI-anchor synthesis. We isolated piga-1 - knockout worms and found that GPI-anchor synthesis is indispensable for the maintenance of mitotic germline cell number. The knockout worms displayed 100% lethality, with decreased mitotic germline cells and abnormal eggshell formation. Using cell-specific rescue of the null allele, we showed that expression of piga-1 in somatic gonads and/or in germline is sufficient for normal embryonic development and the maintenance of the germline mitotic cells. These results clearly demonstrate that GPI-anchor synthesis is indispensable for germline formation and for normal development of oocytes and eggs.
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