During morphogenesis, adherens junctions (AJs) remodel to allow changes in cell shape and position while preserving adhesion. Here, we examine the function of Rho guanosine triphosphatase CDC-42 in AJ formation and regulation during Caenorhabditis elegans embryo elongation, a process driven by asymmetric epidermal cell shape changes. cdc-42
mutant embryos arrest during elongation with epidermal ruptures. Unexpectedly, we find using time-lapse fluorescence imaging that cdc-42
is not required for epidermal cell polarization or junction assembly, but rather is needed for proper junctional actin regulation during elongation. We show that the RhoGAP PAC-1/ARHGAP21 inhibits CDC-42 activity at AJs, and loss of PAC-1 or the interacting linker protein PICC-1/CCDC85A-C blocks elongation in embryos with compromised AJ function. pac-1
embryos exhibit dynamic accumulations of junctional F-actin and an increase in AJ protein levels. Our findings identify a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism for inhibiting junctional CDC-42 to control actin organization and AJ protein levels during epithelial morphogenesis.