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EMBO J. 2008 Dec 17;27(24):3288-99. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2008.252. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

A synaptic DEG/ENaC ion channel mediates learning in C. elegans by facilitating dopamine signalling.

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Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, Heraklion, Crete, Greece.


An important component of learned behaviour is the ability to forecast positive or negative outcomes based on specific sensory cues. Predictive capacity is typically manifested by appropriate behavioural patterning. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying behavioural plasticity are poorly understood. Caenorhabditis elegans displays experience-dependent behavioural responses by associating distinct environmental signals. We find that ASIC-1, a member of the degenerin/epithelial sodium channel family, which localizes at presynaptic terminals of dopaminergic neurons, is required for associative learning in C. elegans. ASIC-1 functions in these neurons to amplify normal dopaminergic signalling, necessary for associative learning. Our results reveal a novel role of DEG/ENaC ion channels in neuronal communication by enhancing the activity of dopaminergic synapses. Similar mechanisms may facilitate synaptic plasticity in vertebrates.

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