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J Neurosci. 1997 Aug 1;17(15):5843-57.

Caenorhabditis elegans levamisole resistance genes lev-1, unc-29, and unc-38 encode functional nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Medical Research Council Centre, Cambridge CB2 2QH, United Kingdom.


We show that three of the eleven genes of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that mediate resistance to the nematocide levamisole and to other cholinergic agonists encode nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunits. unc-38 encodes an alpha subunit while lev-1 and unc-29 encode non-alpha subunits. The nematode nAChR subunits show conservation of many mammalian nAChR sequence features, implying an ancient evolutionary origin of nAChR proteins. Expression in Xenopus oocytes of combinations of these subunits that include the unc-38 alpha subunit results in levamisole-induced currents that are suppressed by the nAChR antagonists mecamylamine, neosurugatoxin, and d-tubocurarine but not alpha-bungarotoxin. The mutant phenotypes reveal that unc-38 and unc-29 subunits are necessary for nAChR function, whereas the lev-1 subunit is not. An UNC-29-GFP fusion shows that UNC-29 is expressed in body and head muscles. Two dominant mutations of lev-1 result in a single amino acid substitution or addition in or near transmembrane domain 2, a region important to ion channel conductance and desensitization. The identification of viable nAChR mutants in C. elegans provides an advantageous system in which receptor expression and synaptic targeting can be manipulated and studied in vivo.

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