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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2009 Nov;297(5):C1071-81. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00284.2009. Epub 2009 Sep 9.

Loss of the apical V-ATPase a-subunit VHA-6 prevents acidification of the intestinal lumen during a rhythmic behavior in C. elegans.

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Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.


In Caenorhabditis elegans, oscillations of intestinal pH contribute to the rhythmic defecation behavior, but the acid-base transport mechanisms that facilitate proton movement are not well understood. Here, we demonstrate that VHA-6, an intestine-specific a-subunit of the H(+)-K(+)-ATPase complex (V-ATPase), resides in the apical membrane of the intestinal epithelial cells and is required for luminal acidification. Disruption of the vha-6 gene led to early developmental arrest; the arrest phenotype could be complemented by expression of a fluorescently labeled vha-6 transgene. To study the contribution of vha-6 to pH homeostasis in larval worms, we used a partial reduction of function through postembryonic single-generation RNA interference. We demonstrate that the inability to fully acidify the intestinal lumen coincides with a defect in pH recovery of the intestinal epithelial cells, suggesting that VHA-6 is essential for proton pumping following defecation. Moreover, intestinal dipeptide accumulation and fat storage are compromised by the loss of VHA-6, suggesting that luminal acidification promotes nutrient uptake in worms, as well as in mammals. Since acidified intracellular vesicles and autofluorescent storage granules are indistinguishable between the vha-6 mutant and controls, it is likely that the nutrient-restricted phenotype is due to a loss of plasma membrane V-ATPase activity specifically. These data establish a simple genetic model for proton pump-driven acidification. Since defecation occurs at 45-s intervals in worms, this model represents an opportunity to study acute regulation of V-ATPase activity on a short time scale and may be useful in the study of alternative treatments for acid-peptic disorders.

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