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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 25;105(47):18590-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0806933105. Epub 2008 Nov 19.

Eight genes are required for functional reconstitution of the Caenorhabditis elegans levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptor.

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Ecole Normale Supérieure, Biology Department, 75005 Paris, France.


Levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate excitatory neurotransmission at the neuromuscular junctions of nematodes. They constitute a major drug target for anthelminthic treatments because they can be activated by nematode-specific cholinergic agonists such as levamisole. Genetic screens conducted in Caenorhabditis elegans for resistance to levamisole toxicity identified genes that are indispensable for the biosynthesis of L-AChRs. These include 5 genes encoding distinct AChR subunits and 3 genes coding for ancillary proteins involved in assembly and trafficking of the receptors. Despite extensive analysis of L-AChRs in vivo, pharmacological and biophysical characterization of these receptors has been greatly hampered by the absence of a heterologous expression system. Using Xenopus laevis oocytes, we were able to reconstitute functional L-AChRs by coexpressing the 5 distinct receptor subunits and the 3 ancillary proteins. Strikingly, this system recapitulates the genetic requirements for receptor expression in vivo because omission of any of these 8 genes dramatically impairs L-AChR expression. We demonstrate that 3 alpha- and 2 non-alpha-subunits assemble into the same receptor. Pharmacological analysis reveals that the prototypical cholinergic agonist nicotine is unable to activate L-AChRs but rather acts as a potent allosteric inhibitor. These results emphasize the role of ancillary proteins for efficient expression of recombinant neurotransmitter receptors and open the way for in vitro screening of novel anthelminthic agents.

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