Whereas the hermaphrodite gonad of Caenorhabditis elegans has two symmetric arms (didelphy), the female/hermaphrodite gonad of many nematode species features a single anterior arm (monodelphy). We examined how gonadal cell lineages and intercellular signalling evolve to generate these diverse structures. In C. elegans, the two arms develop symmetrically from two somatic precursor cells, Z1 (anterior) and Z4 (posterior). Each first gives rise to one distal tip cell (which promotes arm growth and germ line proliferation), two ovary precursors and three uterine precursors in the center of the developing gonad. In monodelphic species, Z1 and Z4 have different fates. The first visible asymmetry between them is in the relative timing of their divisions, followed by asymmetric cell movements. The putative posterior distal tip cell is then eliminated in all but one species by programmed cell death. In some species the posterior ovary precursors form a small vestigial posterior arm, the post-vulval sac; in other species, they stay undivided, or die. In Cephalobus sp. PS1197, the specific fate of Z4 progeny is induced by Z1 (or its daughters). In the uterus in C. elegans, symmetric lateral signalling between Z1.ppp and Z4.aaa renders them equally likely to become the anchor cell, which links the uterus to the vulva. In the different monodelphic species, anchor cell specification is biased, or fully fixed, to a descendant of either Z1 or Z4. Replacement regulation upon anchor cell ablation is conserved in some species, but lost in others, leading to a mosaic-type development. Differentiation between Z1 and Z4 is thus manifested at this later stage in the breakage of symmetry of cell interactions in the ventral uterus.

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