POP-1, a Tcf/Lef-1-like target of the convergent Wnt and MAP kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways, functions throughout Caenorhabditis elegans development to generate unequal daughters during asymmetric cell divisions. A particularly prominent such asymmetric division occurs when the EMS blastomere divides to produce MS, a mesoderm precursor, and E, the sole endoderm progenitor. POP-1 allows mesoderm development in the MS lineage by repressing the endoderm-promoting end-1
genes. This repression is relieved in the E lineage by Wnt/MAPK signaling, which results in phosphorylation and export of POP-1 from the E nucleus. Here, we report that, in addition to repressing E development in MS, POP-1 also functions positively in endoderm development, in conjunction with the well-characterized endoderm-promoting SKN-1-->MED regulatory cascade. While removal of POP-1 alone results in derepression of endoderm development in the MS lineage, mutations in several genes that result in impenetrant loss of endoderm are strongly enhanced by loss of pop-1
function. A Lef-1-like binding site is essential for activation of an end-1
promoter fusion, suggesting that POP-1 may act directly on end-1
. Thus, POP-1 may generate developmental asymmetry during many cell divisions in C. elegans by reiteratively switching from repressive and activating states. Furthermore, we report that the Caudal-like homeodomain protein PAL-1, whose role in early embryogenesis was thought to be exclusive specification of mesectodermal development in the lineage of the C blastomere, can act with POP-1 to activate endoderm specification in the absence of the SKN-1-->MED transcriptional input, accounting for the impenetrance of mutants lacking SKN-1 or MED-1,2 activity. We conclude that the combined action of several separate transcriptional regulatory inputs, including SKN-1, the MEDs, PAL-1, and the Wnt/MAPK-activated form of POP-1, are responsible for activating end gene transcription and endoderm development.