The Caenorhabditis elegans unc-49 locus encodes multiple subunits of a heteromultimeric GABA receptor. Academic Article uri icon


  • Ionotropic GABA receptors generally require the products of three subunit genes. By contrast, the GABA receptor needed for locomotion in Caenorhabditis elegans requires only the unc-49 gene. We cloned unc-49 and demonstrated that it possesses an unusual overlapping gene structure. unc-49 contains a single copy of a GABA receptor N terminus, followed by three tandem copies of a GABA receptor C terminus. Using a single promoter, unc-49 generates three distinct GABAA receptor-like subunits by splicing the N terminus to each of the three C-terminal repeats. This organization suggests that the three UNC-49 subunits (UNC-49A, UNC-49B, and UNC-49C) are coordinately rescued and therefore might coassemble to form a heteromultimeric GABA receptor. Surprisingly, only UNC-49B and UNC-49C are expressed at high levels, whereas UNC-49A expression is barely detectable. Green fluorescent protein-tagged UNC-49B and UNC-49C subunits are coexpressed in muscle cells and are colocalized to synaptic regions. UNC-49B and UNC-49C also coassemble efficiently in Xenopus oocytes and HEK-293 cells to form a heteromeric GABA receptor. Together these data argue that UNC-49B and UNC-49C coassemble at the C. elegans neuromuscular junction. Thus, C. elegans is able to encode a heteromeric GABA receptor with a single locus.

publication date

  • July 1, 1999