The C. elegans Intestine As a Model for Intercellular Lumen Morphogenesis and In Vivo Polarized Membrane Biogenesis at the Single-cell Level: Labeling by Antibody Staining, RNAi Loss-of-function Analysis and Imaging

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Multicellular tubes, fundamental units of all internal organs, are composed of polarized epithelial or endothelial cells, with apical membranes lining the lumen and basolateral membranes contacting each other and/or the extracellular matrix. How this distinctive membrane asymmetry is established and maintained during organ morphogenesis is still an unresolved question of cell biology. This protocol describes the C. elegans intestine as a model for the analysis of polarized membrane biogenesis during tube morphogenesis, with emphasis on apical membrane and lumen biogenesis. The C. elegans twenty-cell single-layered intestinal epithelium is arranged into a simple bilaterally symmetrical tube, permitting analysis on a single-cell level. Membrane polarization occurs concomitantly with polarized cell division and migration during early embryogenesis, but de novo polarized membrane biogenesis continues throughout larval growth, when cells no longer proliferate and move. The latter setting allows one to separate subcellular changes that simultaneously mediate these different polarizing processes, difficult to distinguish in most polarity models. Apical-, basolateral membrane-, junctional-, cytoskeletal- and endomembrane components can be labeled and tracked throughout development by GFP fusion proteins, or assessed by in situ antibody staining. Together with the organism's genetic versatility, the C. elegans intestine thus provides a unique in vivo model for the visual, developmental, and molecular genetic analysis of polarized membrane and tube biogenesis. The specific methods (all standard) described here include how to: label intestinal subcellular components by antibody staining; analyze genes involved in polarized membrane biogenesis by loss-of-function studies adapted to the typically essential tubulogenesis genes; assess polarity defects during different developmental stages; interpret phenotypes by epifluorescence, differential interference contrast (DIC) and confocal microscopy; quantify visual defects. This protocol can be adapted to analyze any of the often highly conserved molecules involved in epithelial polarity, membrane biogenesis, tube and lumen morphogenesis.