• Volatile anesthetic;
  • Avermectin;
  • Locomotion;
  • Gap junction;
  • OPUS protein;
  • Ion channel

Abstract: Mutations in the unc-9 gene of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans cause abnormal forward locomotion and an egg-retention phenotype. unc-9 mutations also reduce the worms' sensitivity to avermectin and block a form of hypersensitivity to volatile anesthetics. We report here the cloning and molecular characterization of unc-9 and show that it encodes a member of the OPUS family of proteins that is 56% identical to another OPUS protein, UNC-7. It is significant that unc-9 mutants share all phenotypes with unc-7 mutants. Mutants in another gene, unc-124, also share all tested phenotypes with unc-9 mutants, including identical locomotory and egg-laying defects, suggesting that multiple genes are required for the same biochemical function. OPUS proteins are implicated in the function of invertebrate gap junctions, and, based on a new alignment including 24 members from C. elegans, we present a refined model for the structure of OPUS proteins suggesting that oligomers could form a hydrophilic pore. We also show that alteration of highly conserved proline residues in UNC-9 leads to a cold sensitivity that likely affects a step in protein expression rather than function. Finally, we speculate on the basis of the avermectin resistance and anesthetic response phenotypes.