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G3 (Bethesda). 2013 Mar;3(3):441-50. doi: 10.1534/g3.112.005272. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

The genetic architecture of degenerin/epithelial sodium channels in Drosophila.

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Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent a large family of animal-specific membrane proteins. Although the physiological functions of most family members are not known, some have been shown to act as nonvoltage gated, amiloride-sensitive sodium channels. The DEG/ENaC family is exceptionally large in genomes of Drosophila species relative to vertebrates and other insects. To elucidate the evolutionary history of the DEG/ENaC family in Drosophila, we took advantage of the genomic and genetic information available for 12 Drosophila species that represent all the major species groups in the Drosophila clade. We have identified 31 family members (termed pickpocket genes) in Drosophila melanogaster, which can be divided into six subfamilies, which are represented in all 12 species. Structure prediction analyses suggested that some subunits evolved unique structural features in the large extracellular domain, possibly supporting mechanosensory functions. This finding is further supported by experimental data that show that both ppk1 and ppk26 are expressed in multidendritic neurons, which can sense mechanical nociceptive stimuli in larvae. We also identified representative genes from five of the six DEG/ENaC subfamilies in a mosquito genome, suggesting that the core DEG/ENaC subfamilies were already present early in the dipteran radiation. Spatial and temporal analyses of expression patterns of the various pickpocket genes indicated that paralogous genes often show very different expression patterns, possibly indicating that gene duplication events have led to new physiological or cellular functions rather than redundancy. In summary, our analyses support a rapid early diversification of the DEG/ENaC family in Diptera followed by physiological and/or cellular specialization. Some members of the family may have diversified to support the physiological functions of a yet unknown class of ligands.


Degenerin/epithelial sodium channel; chemosensation; fruit fly; mechanosensation; phylogeny

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