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PLoS Genet. 2011 Mar;7(3):e1001341. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001341. Epub 2011 Mar 17.

Macoilin, a conserved nervous system-specific ER membrane protein that regulates neuronal excitability.

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Medical Research Council-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.


Genome sequence comparisons have highlighted many novel gene families that are conserved across animal phyla but whose biological function is unknown. Here, we functionally characterize a member of one such family, the macoilins. Macoilins are characterized by several highly conserved predicted transmembrane domains towards the N-terminus and by coiled-coil regions C-terminally. They are found throughout Eumetazoa but not in other organisms. Mutants for the single Caenorhabditis elegans macoilin, maco-1, exhibit a constellation of behavioral phenotypes, including defects in aggregation, O₂ responses, and swimming. MACO-1 protein is expressed broadly and specifically in the nervous system and localizes to the rough endoplasmic reticulum; it is excluded from dendrites and axons. Apart from subtle synapse defects, nervous system development appears wild-type in maco-1 mutants. However, maco-1 animals are resistant to the cholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb and sensitive to levamisole, suggesting pre-synaptic defects. Using in vivo imaging, we show that macoilin is required to evoke Ca²(+) transients, at least in some neurons: in maco-1 mutants the O₂-sensing neuron PQR is unable to generate a Ca²(+) response to a rise in O₂. By genetically disrupting neurotransmission, we show that pre-synaptic input is not necessary for PQR to respond to O₂, indicating that the response is mediated by cell-intrinsic sensory transduction and amplification. Disrupting the sodium leak channels NCA-1/NCA-2, or the N-,P/Q,R-type voltage-gated Ca²(+) channels, also fails to disrupt Ca²(+) responses in the PQR cell body to O₂ stimuli. By contrast, mutations in egl-19, which encodes the only Caenorhabditis elegans L-type voltage-gated Ca²(+) channel α1 subunit, recapitulate the Ca²(+) response defect we see in maco-1 mutants, although we do not see defects in localization of EGL-19. Together, our data suggest that macoilin acts in the ER to regulate assembly or traffic of ion channels or ion channel regulators.

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