The molecular mechanisms that enable multicellular organisms to sense and modulate their responses to hyperosmotic environments are poorly understood. Here, we employ Caenorhabditis elegans to characterize the response of a multicellular organism to osmotic stress and establish a genetic screen to isolate mutants that are osmotic stress resistant (OSR). In this study, we describe the cloning of a novel gene, osr-1, and demonstrate that it regulates osmosensation, adaptation, and survival in hyperosmotic environments. Whereas wild-type animals exposed to hyperosmotic conditions rapidly lose body volume, motility, and viability, osr-1(rm1) mutant animals maintain normal body volume, motility, and viability even upon chronic exposures to high osmolarity environments. In addition, osr-1(rm1) animals are specifically resistant to osmotic stress and are distinct from previously characterized osmotic avoidance defective (OSM) and general stress resistance age-1(hx546) mutants. OSR-1 is expressed in the hypodermis and intestine, and expression of OSR-1 in hypodermal cells rescues the osr-1(rm1) phenotypes. Genetic epistasis analysis indicates that OSR-1 regulates survival under osmotic stress via CaMKII and a conserved p38 MAP kinase signaling cascade and regulates osmotic avoidance and resistance to acute dehydration likely by distinct mechanisms. We suggest that OSR-1 plays a central role in integrating stress detection and adaptation responses by invoking multiple signaling pathways to promote survival under hyperosmotic environments.
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