Chloride intracellular channels (CLICs) are conserved proteins for which the cellular and molecular functions remain mysterious. An important insight into CLIC function came from the discovery that Caenorhabditis elegans EXC-4/CLIC regulates morphogenesis of the excretory canal (ExCa) cell, a single-cell tube. Subsequent work showed that mammalian CLICs regulate vascular development and angiogenesis, and human CLIC1 can rescue exc-4 mutants, suggesting conserved function in biological tube formation (tubulogenesis) and maintenance. However, the cell behaviors and signaling pathways regulated by EXC-4/CLICs during tubulogenesis in vivo remain largely unknown. We report a new exc-4 mutation, affecting a C-terminal residue conserved in virtually all metazoan CLICs, that reveals a specific role for EXC-4 in ExCa outgrowth. Cell culture studies suggest a function for CLICs in heterotrimeric G protein (Gα/β/γ)-Rho/Rac signaling, and Rho-family GTPases are common regulators of cell outgrowth. Using our new exc-4 mutant, we describe a previously unknown function for Gα-encoding genes (gpa-12/12/13, gpa-7/i, egl-30/Gαq and gsa-1/Gαs), ced-10/Rac and mig-2/RhoG in EXC-4-mediated ExCa outgrowth. Our results demonstrate that EXC-4/CLICs are primordial players in Gα-Rho/Rac-signaling, a pathway that is crucial for tubulogenesis in C. elegans and in vascular development.

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