A single immunoglobulin-domain protein required for clustering acetylcholine receptors in C. elegans.
ABSTRACT: At Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), synaptic clustering of the levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) relies on an extracellular scaffold assembled in the synaptic cleft. It involves the secreted protein LEV-9 and the ectodomain of the transmembrane protein LEV-10, which are both expressed by muscle cells. L-AChRs, LEV-9 and LEV-10 are part of a physical complex, which localizes at NMJs, yet none of its components localizes independently at synapses. In a screen for mutants partially resistant to the cholinergic agonist levamisole, we identified oig-4, which encodes a small protein containing a single immunoglobulin domain. The OIG-4 protein is secreted by muscle cells and physically interacts with the L-AChR/LEV-9/LEV-10 complex. Removal of OIG-4 destabilizes the complex and causes a loss of L-AChR clusters at the synapse. Interestingly, OIG-4 partially localizes at NMJs independently of LEV-9 and LEV-10, thus providing a potential link between the L-AChR-associated scaffold and local synaptic cues. These results add a novel paradigm for the immunoglobulin super-family as OIG-4 is a secreted protein required for clustering ionotropic receptors independently of synapse formation.
Project description:Clustering neurotransmitter receptors at the synapse is crucial for efficient neurotransmission. Here we identify a Caenorhabditis elegans locus, lev-10, required for postsynaptic aggregation of ionotropic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). lev-10 mutants were identified on the basis of weak resistance to the anthelminthic drug levamisole, a nematode-specific cholinergic agonist that activates AChRs present at neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) resulting in muscle hypercontraction and death at high concentrations. In lev-10 mutants, the density of levamisole-sensitive AChRs at NMJs is markedly reduced, yet the number of functional AChRs present at the muscle cell surface remains unchanged. LEV-10 is a transmembrane protein localized to cholinergic NMJs and required in body-wall muscles for AChR clustering. We also show that the LEV-10 extracellular region, containing five predicted CUB domains and one LDLa domain, is sufficient to rescue AChR aggregation in lev-10 mutants. This suggests a mechanism for AChR clustering that relies on extracellular protein-protein interactions. Such a mechanism is likely to be evolutionarily conserved because CUB/LDL transmembrane proteins similar to LEV-10, but lacking any assigned function, are expressed in the mammalian nervous system and might be used to cluster ionotropic receptors in vertebrates.
Project description:Acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are required for body movement in parasitic nematodes and are targets of "classical" anthelmintic drugs such as levamisole and pyrantel and of newer drugs such as tribendimidine and derquantel. While neurotransmission explains the effects of these drugs on nematode movement, their effects on parasite reproduction are unexplained. The levamisole AChR type (L-AChRs) in Caenorhabditis elegans is comprised of five subunits: Cel-UNC-29, Cel-UNC-38, Cel-UNC-63, Cel-LEV-1 and Cel-LEV-8. The genome of the filarial parasite Brugia malayi contains nine AChRs subunits including orthologues of Cel-unc-29, Cel-unc-38, and Cel-unc-63. We performed in situ hybridization with RNA probes to localize the expression of five AChR genes (Bm1_35890-Bma-unc-29, Bm1_20330-Bma-unc-38, Bm1_38195-Bma-unc-63, Bm1_48815-Bma-acr-26 and Bm1_40515-Bma-acr-12) in B. malayi adult worms. Four of these genes had similar expression patterns with signals in body muscle, developing embryos, spermatogonia, uterine wall adjacent to stretched microfilariae, wall of V as deferens, and lateral cord. Three L-AChR subunit genes (Bma-unc-29, Bma-unc-38 and Bma-unc-63) were expressed in body muscle, which is a known target of levamisole. Bma-acr-12 was co-expressed with these levamisole subunit genes in muscle, and this suggests that its protein product may form receptors with other alpha subunits. Bma-acr-26 was expressed in male muscle but not in female muscle. Strong expression signals of these genes in early embryos and gametes in uterus and testis suggest that AChRs may have a role in nervous system development of embryogenesis and spermatogenesis. This would be consistent with embryotoxic effects of drugs that target these receptors in filarial worms. Our data show that the expression of these receptor genes is tightly regulated with regard to localization in adult worms and developmental stage in embryos and gametes. These results may help to explain the broad effects of drugs that target AChRs in filarial worms.
Project description:Cholinergic agonists such as levamisole and pyrantel are widely used as anthelmintics to treat parasitic nematode infestations. These drugs elicit spastic paralysis by activating acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) expressed in nematode body wall muscles. In the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, genetic screens led to the identification of five genes encoding levamisole-sensitive-AChR (L-AChR) subunits: unc-38, unc-63, unc-29, lev-1 and lev-8. These subunits form a functional L-AChR when heterologously expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes. Here we show that the majority of parasitic species that are sensitive to levamisole lack a gene orthologous to C. elegans lev-8. This raises important questions concerning the properties of the native receptor that constitutes the target for cholinergic anthelmintics. We demonstrate that the closely related ACR-8 subunit from phylogenetically distant animal and plant parasitic nematode species functionally substitutes for LEV-8 in the C. elegans L-AChR when expressed in Xenopus oocytes. The importance of ACR-8 in parasitic nematode sensitivity to cholinergic anthelmintics is reinforced by a 'model hopping' approach in which we demonstrate the ability of ACR-8 from the hematophagous parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus to fully restore levamisole sensitivity, and to confer high sensitivity to pyrantel, when expressed in the body wall muscle of C. elegans lev-8 null mutants. The critical role of acr-8 to in vivo drug sensitivity is substantiated by the successful demonstration of RNAi gene silencing for Hco-acr-8 which reduced the sensitivity of H. contortus larvae to levamisole. Intriguingly, the pyrantel sensitivity remained unchanged thus providing new evidence for distinct modes of action of these important anthelmintics in parasitic species versus C. elegans. More broadly, this highlights the limits of C. elegans as a predictive model to decipher cholinergic agonist targets from parasitic nematode species and provides key molecular insight to inform the discovery of next generation anthelmintic compounds.
Project description:The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is a chemical synapse formed between motoneurons and skeletal muscle fibers. The vertebrate NMJ uses acetylcholine (ACh) as the neurotransmitter and features numerous invaginations of the postsynaptic muscle membrane termed junctional folds. ACh receptors (AChRs) are believed to be concentrated on the crest of junctional folds but their spatial organization remains to be fully understood. In this study, we utilized super-resolution microscopy to examine the nanoscale organization of AChRs at NMJ. Using Structured Illumination Microscopy, we found that AChRs appear as stripes within the pretzel-shaped mouse NMJs, which however, do not correlate with the size of the crests of junctional folds. By comparing the localization of AChRs with several pre- and postsynaptic markers of distinct compartments of NMJs, we found that AChRs are not distributed evenly across the crest of junctional folds as previously thought. Instead, AChR stripes are more closely aligned with the openings of junctional folds as well as with the presynaptic active zone. Using Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (STORM) for increased resolution, we found that each AChR stripe contains an AChR-poor slit at the center that is equivalent to the size of the opening of junctional folds. Together, these findings indicate that AChRs are largely localized to the edges of crests surrounding the opening of folds to align with the presynaptic active zones. Such a nanoscale organization of AChRs potentially enables trans-synaptic alignment for effective synaptic transmission of NMJs.
Project description:Correct positioning of neurotransmitter-gated receptors at postsynapses is essential for synaptic transmission. At Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junctions, clustering of levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) requires the muscle-secreted scaffolding protein LEV-9, a multidomain factor containing complement control protein (CCP) modules. Here we show that LEV-9 needs to be cleaved at its C terminus to exert its function. LEV-9 cleavage is not required for trafficking nor secretion but directly controls scaffolding activity. The cleavage site is evolutionarily conserved, and post-translational cleavage ensures the structural and functional decoupling between different isoforms encoded by the lev-9 gene. Data mining indicates that most human CCP-containing factors are likely cleaved C-terminally from CCP tandems, suggesting that not only domain architectures but also cleavage location can be conserved in distant architecturally related proteins.
Project description:BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: The cholinergic agonist levamisole is widely used to treat parasitic nematode infestations. This anthelmintic drug paralyses worms by activating a class of levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) expressed in nematode muscle cells. However, levamisole efficacy has been compromised by the emergence of drug-resistant parasites, especially in gastrointestinal nematodes such as Haemonchus contortus. We report here the first functional reconstitution and pharmacological characterization of H. contortus L-AChRs in a heterologous expression system. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH: In the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, five AChR subunit and three ancillary protein genes are necessary in vivo and in vitro to synthesize L-AChRs. We have cloned the H. contortus orthologues of these genes and expressed them in Xenopus oocytes. We reconstituted two types of H. contortus L-AChRs with distinct pharmacologies by combining different receptor subunits. KEY RESULTS: The Hco-ACR-8 subunit plays a pivotal role in selective sensitivity to levamisole. As observed with C. elegans L-AChRs, expression of H. contortus receptors requires the ancillary proteins Hco-RIC-3, Hco-UNC-50 and Hco-UNC-74. Using this experimental system, we demonstrated that a truncated Hco-UNC-63 L-AChR subunit, which was specifically detected in a levamisole-resistant H. contortus isolate, but not in levamisole-sensitive strains, hampers the normal function of L-AChRs, when co-expressed with its full-length counterpart. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: We provide the first functional evidence for a putative molecular mechanism involved in levamisole resistance in any parasitic nematode. This expression system will provide a means to analyse molecular polymorphisms associated with drug resistance at the electrophysiological level.
Project description:Muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) is critical for the synaptic clustering of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) and plays multiple roles in the organization and maintenance of neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). MuSK is activated by agrin, which is released from motoneurons, and induces AChR clustering at the postsynaptic membrane. Although autoantibodies against the ectodomain of MuSK have been found in a proportion of patients with generalized myasthenia gravis (MG), it is unclear whether MuSK autoantibodies are the causative agent of generalized MG. In the present study, rabbits immunized with MuSK ectodomain protein manifested MG-like muscle weakness with a reduction of AChR clustering at the NMJs. The autoantibodies activated MuSK and blocked AChR clustering induced by agrin or by mediators that do not activate MuSK. Thus MuSK autoantibodies rigorously inhibit AChR clustering mediated by multiple pathways, an outcome that broadens our general comprehension of the pathogenesis of MG.
Project description:Levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate excitatory neurotransmission at the neuromuscular junctions of nematodes. They constitute a major drug target for anthelminthic treatments because they can be activated by nematode-specific cholinergic agonists such as levamisole. Genetic screens conducted in Caenorhabditis elegans for resistance to levamisole toxicity identified genes that are indispensable for the biosynthesis of L-AChRs. These include 5 genes encoding distinct AChR subunits and 3 genes coding for ancillary proteins involved in assembly and trafficking of the receptors. Despite extensive analysis of L-AChRs in vivo, pharmacological and biophysical characterization of these receptors has been greatly hampered by the absence of a heterologous expression system. Using Xenopus laevis oocytes, we were able to reconstitute functional L-AChRs by coexpressing the 5 distinct receptor subunits and the 3 ancillary proteins. Strikingly, this system recapitulates the genetic requirements for receptor expression in vivo because omission of any of these 8 genes dramatically impairs L-AChR expression. We demonstrate that 3 alpha- and 2 non-alpha-subunits assemble into the same receptor. Pharmacological analysis reveals that the prototypical cholinergic agonist nicotine is unable to activate L-AChRs but rather acts as a potent allosteric inhibitor. These results emphasize the role of ancillary proteins for efficient expression of recombinant neurotransmitter receptors and open the way for in vitro screening of novel anthelminthic agents.
Project description:The maintenance of a high density of neurotransmitter receptors at the postsynaptic apparatus is critical for efficient neurotransmission. Acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are neurotransmitter receptors densely packed on the postsynaptic muscle membrane at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) via anchoring onto the actin cytoskeletal network. However, how the receptor-associated actin is coordinately regulated is not fully understood. We report here that Coronin 6, a newly identified member of the coronin family, is highly enriched at adult NMJs and regulates AChR clustering through modulating the interaction between receptors and the actin cytoskeletal network. Experiments with cultured myotubes reveal that Coronin 6 is important for both agrin- and laminin-induced AChR clustering. Furthermore, Coronin 6 forms a complex with AChRs and actin in a manner dependent on its C-terminal region and a conserved Arg(29) residue at the N terminus, both of which are critical for the cytoskeletal anchorage of AChRs. Importantly, in vivo knockdown of Coronin 6 in mouse skeletal muscle fibers leads to destabilization of AChR clusters. Together, these findings demonstrate that Coronin 6 is a critical regulator of AChR clustering at the postsynaptic region of the NMJs through modulating the receptor-anchored actin cytoskeleton.
Project description:The number of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) present in the plasma membrane of muscle and neuronal cells is limited by the assembly of individual subunits into mature pentameric receptors. This process is usually inefficient, and a large number of the synthesized subunits are degraded by endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation. To identify cellular factors required for the synthesis of AChRs, we performed a genetic screen in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans for mutants with decreased sensitivity to the cholinergic agonist levamisole. We isolated a partial loss-of-function allele of ER membrane protein complex-6 (emc-6), a previously uncharacterized gene in C. elegans. emc-6 encodes an evolutionarily conserved 111-aa protein with two predicted transmembrane domains. EMC-6 is ubiquitously expressed and localizes to the ER. Partial inhibition of EMC-6 caused decreased expression of heteromeric levamisole-sensitive AChRs by destabilizing unassembled subunits in the ER. Inhibition of emc-6 also reduced the expression of homomeric nicotine-sensitive AChRs and GABAA receptors in C. elegans muscle cells. emc-6 is orthologous to the yeast and human EMC6 genes that code for a component of the recently identified ER membrane complex (EMC). Our data suggest this complex is required for protein folding and is connected to ER-associated degradation. We demonstrated that inactivation of additional EMC members in C. elegans also impaired AChR synthesis and induced the unfolded protein response. These results suggest that the EMC is a component of the ER folding machinery. AChRs might provide a valuable proxy to decipher the function of the EMC further.