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Mol Biol Cell. 2009 Jan;20(1):43-55. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E08-07-0689. Epub 2008 Oct 15.

UNC-18 modulates ethanol sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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The Physiological Laboratory, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.


Acute ethanol exposure affects the nervous system as a stimulant at low concentrations and as a depressant at higher concentrations, eventually resulting in motor dysfunction and uncoordination. A recent genetic study of two mouse strains with varying ethanol preference indicated a correlation with a polymorphism (D216N) in the synaptic protein Munc18-1. Munc18-1 functions in exocytosis via a number of discrete interactions with the soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) protein syntaxin-1. We report that the mutation affects binding to syntaxin but not through either a closed conformation mode of interaction or through binding to the syntaxin N terminus. The D216N mutant instead has a specific impairment in binding the assembled SNARE complex. Furthermore, the mutation broadens the duration of single exocytotic events. Expression of the orthologous mutation (D214N) in the Caenorhabditis elegans UNC-18 null background generated transgenic rescues with phenotypically similar locomotion to worms rescued with the wild-type protein. Strikingly, D214N worms were strongly resistant to both stimulatory and sedative effects of acute ethanol. Analysis of an alternative Munc18-1 mutation (I133V) supported the link between reduced SNARE complex binding and ethanol resistance. We conclude that ethanol acts, at least partially, at the level of vesicle fusion and that its acute effects are ameliorated by point mutations in UNC-18.

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