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J Neurosci. 1998 Apr 15;18(8):2871-80.

G alphas-induced neurodegeneration in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Department of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


We describe a genetic model for neurodegeneration in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Constitutive activation of the GTP-binding protein Galphas induces neurodegeneration. Neuron loss occurs in two phases whereby affected cells undergo a swelling response in young larvae and subsequently die sometime during larval development. Different neural cell types vary greatly in their susceptibility to Galphas-induced cytotoxicity, ranging from 0 to 88% of cells affected. Mutations that prevent programmed cell death do not prevent Galphas-induced killing, suggesting that these deaths do not occur by apoptosis. Mutations in three genes protect against Galphas-induced cell deaths. The acy-1 gene is absolutely required for neurodegeneration, and the predicted ACY-1 protein is highly similar (40% identical) to mammalian adenylyl cyclases. Thus, Gs-induced neurodegeneration is mediated by the second messenger cAMP. Mutations in the unc-36 and eat-4 genes are partially neuroprotective, which indicates that endogenous signaling modulates the severity of the neurotoxic effects of Galphas. These experiments define an intracellular signaling cascade that triggers a necrotic form of neurodegeneration.

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